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There can be few Christians who changed the life of nations only to be as little remembered as George Whitefield. In part this was because he left no denomination. Except for the short biography by the Scotsman, John Gillies (published two years after his death), Whitefield’s memory was left largely in the hands of those who wished to attribute his influence to ‘theatrical talent’ and fanaticism. The tide of unfavorable opinion did not change until the publication of Robert Philip’s volume in 1837. By 1852 J.C. Ryle was among those popularizing the belief that ‘Whitefield was one of the most powerful and extraordinary preachers the world has ever seen.’ Later and more definitive biographies were to confirm this opinion, notably the two volumes of Luke Tyerman 1876-1877 and of Arnold Dallimore in 1970 and 1980.
Philip’s biography, however, remains the best account in a single volume. Drawing on the testimony of those who had a personal knowledge of his subject, and from his own extensive study of Whitefield’s journals, letters and sermons, Philip grasped the great lesson of the evangelist’s life, namely, that it is the Holy Spirit who makes preachers.
Philip is not an uncritical biographer, and he is ready to note weaknesses and failures that admirers of Whitefield have sometimes passed over. But the outstanding feature of his work is the way in which he allows his subject to speak for himself. He seems to have absorbed all that Whitefield ever said and wrote, and his selection brings us into direct contact with the man. Thus Philip can truthfully write: ‘This work is chiefly from Whitefield’s own pen. So far as it is mine, it is in his own spirit.’
For those who want a work of quiet scholarship, Philip is not their man. But where there is a desire for the evangelical flame-for words that burn, and reach heart and soul- this volume will clearly show why the gospel can turn the world upside down.