This post was written by my close friend Peter N. He is currently at teachers college in Ottawa. What you will read below is an inspiring quote on Whitefield’s evangelistic zeal followed by an insightful meditation on personal evangelism.
Reading about Whitefield
I have endeavoured to pick up where I left off a year ago and finish reading Volume 2 of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. There is a quote at the beginning of chapter 4 that caught my attention.
“Whitefield was the very first Englishman who seems to have thoroughly understood what Dr. Chalmers aptly called the aggressive system. He was the first to see that Christ’s ministers must do the work of fishermen. They must not wait for souls to come to them, but must go after souls, and ‘compel them to come in.’ He did not sit tamely by his fire-side…mourning over the wickedness of the land. He went forth to beard the devil in his high places. He attacked sin and wickedness face to face and gave them no peace…In short, he set on foot a system of action, which up to his time, had been comparatively unknown in this country, but a system which, once commenced, has never ceased to be employed…” Bishop J. C. Ryle in Christian Leaders of the 18th Century.
This quote inspired the following meditation on evangelism:
Indeed, if we really are convinced that God has His elect in the earth, and believe that to be a truth not to be denied, how are we actively seeking to win His elect over to Christ?
The temptation is to lean toward the strain of hyper-Calvinism, which says that if God elects His children, He will do so with or without our help, for God needs no aid. This tends toward a particular streak of apathy and laziness in terms of speaking the gospel to our fellow-man. The default position of our attitude towards the lost inherently, whether we are aware of it or not, is to think that if God will save them, He will save them, and this is the key thought, “But not through me.”
But this is not to be for the Christian!
Other related streams of thought revolve around this poisonous doctrine. The thought is always, “God, send someone else to tell this person about the gospel,” when God’s Spirit is clearly telling you to speak of Christ. Another subtle thought is to say, “I’ll simply live such a good life around this person that they will inevitably ask me what is this hope I cling to.”
There are two objections to this that come immediately to mind. First, has someone ever actually asked you this question? I think if we were honest most of us would admit not many have asked such a question of us. A corollary question to this one is: If we were really living as Christians as we ought, might there be more questions asked of us by our unbelieving friends? Perhaps the reason we never get asked to give a reason for the hope that we have is because we are not truly living out the called out, separated lives we are supposed to, as saints of God.
The second objection has to do with the very nature of saving faith. How did you become saved? It could not have been through merely the exemplary life of a Christian. Such a life may have reinforced the leading you had towards Christ, but was it not foremost the proclamation of the gospel to you that you believed? Is it not the belief in the essential doctrines of the gospel that makes you a believer?
So, this brings us to the point of this discussion. We must proclaim the gospel to unbelievers. We must open our mouths and speak of Christ to them. No doubt, the testimony of our lives insofar as it is consistent with the Word of God will bolster the testimony of the gospel. But the gospel’s proclamation to repent and believe is the way God saves. The person must hear the gospel. The Spirit must grant saving faith to that person as the gospel is preached to them.
A Challenge this Christmas season
This holiday season there will be many opportunities to speak of Christ to those around us. May we not enter into that dangerous strain of hyper-Calvinism and all its subtle implications and outworkings in our lives. Lord, loosen our tongues to boldly speak of Christ to the lost. For how can they believe in someone they have never heard proclaimed to them? (Rom 10.14)