The Startling Puritan
In 1829 an English publisher issued a compendium of George Whitefield’s sermons and letters titled The Revived Puritan—a very apt description, in fact, of what Whitefield was.
Whitefield was an intelligent, clear-headed, articulate communicator, but he was not original or innovative in his theology. Like all evangelical clergy in eighteenth-century England, he insisted that he taught the doctrines of the Church of England (defined in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the two Books of Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer). The five-point Calvinism of his preaching came to him through the Puritans. His biblical interpretation followed Puritan Matthew Henry, whose Exposition of the Old and New Testaments was Whitefield’s lifelong companion. At every point the substance of his message was conventionally Protestant and Puritan—no less, no more.
Yet the things Whitefield took from this tradition came out in his own way, cast into a direct message calling for present response. His message consisted of five principal themes.
People live thoughtlessly, drifting from one day to another, never thinking of eternity. But God the Creator—mankind’s lawgiver and holy judge, the sovereign Lord who made us for himself and has us in his hands every moment—has revealed in Scripture that a day of judgment is coming when he will either welcome us into heaven’s eternal joy or banish us forever to hell.
Thus, Whitefield delivered urgent imperatives with agonized compassion for fellow mortals in dreadful danger: “Before ever … you can speak peace to your hearts, you must be brought to see, brought to believe, what a dreadful thing it is to depart from the living God.”
G. K. Chesterton described original sin as the one Christian doctrine ...