Phillis Wheatley on Whitefield

At age 7 Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was made a slave, taken from her home in west Africa, and sold to a family in Boston. At age 20 Wheatley became the first African American poet to be published. Her book was simply titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Her short life is a magnificent testimony to perseverance and determination. Her poems were well received, especially one she wrote in 1770 at the death of preacher George Whitefield. In the poem Wheatley does a fine job capturing a couple of important themes in Whitefield’s ministry, the centrality of the gospel, of course, but also Whitefield’s deep care and concern for African American slaves and their souls. This was not lost on Wheatley. Here’s a portion of her poem (entire ebook here):

… He pray’d that grace in ev’ry heart might dwell,
He long’d to see America excell;
He charg’d its youth that ev’ry grace divine
Should with full lustre in their conduct shine;
That Saviour, which his soul did first receive,
The greatest gift that ev’n a God can give,
He freely offer’d to the num’rous throng,
That on his lips with list’ning pleasure hung.

Take him, ye wretched, for your only good,
Take him ye starving sinners, for your food;
Ye thirsty, come to this life-giving stream,
Ye preachers, take him for your joyful theme;
Take him my dear Americans, he said,
Be your complaints on his kind bosom laid:
Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you,
Impartial Saviour is his title due:
Wash’d in the fountain of redeeming blood,
You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God.

But, though arrested by the hand of death,
Whitefield no more exerts his lab’ring breath,
Yet let us view him in th’ eternal skies,
Let ev’ry heart to this bright vision rise;
While the tomb safe retains its sacred trust,
Till life divine re-animates his dust.

Praying for Awakening

I took advantage of an opportunity on Wednesday to spend two hours with church historian Dr. John Woodbridge. Much could be said about this deeply gifted scholar. But I love his humility, joyfulness, and his love for the Church. His love for the Church is communicated by his words and by the facial expressions he displays when speaking of church history, contemporary evangelicalism, and of doctrine. I don’t think I know another man who more consistently displays a desire to see the Church grow in humble unity and global witness.

And so it was no surprise Wednesday that our time focused on the topic of prayer, of the importance of praying for revival and awakening (a topic he is currently writing on). Prayer is how God’s people anticipate God’s power being poured out upon the Church, not through general and vague prayers, but via patient and specific prayers, prayers that whole cities would be overtaken by the awakening power of Holy Spirit.

He also re-emphasized the importance of reading literature that captures a glimpse of the awesome power of God’s Spirit, books written by previous generations that watched (with their own eyes) the awesome power of God at work. He recommended George Whitefield’s Journals.

Dr. Woodbridge’s words were humbling and convicting. Having not lived through anything resembling the multi-national awakening of the 18th century, I find it easy to forget about God’s awakening power, blind to the unseen wind of the Holy Spirit that rushed through whole towns, transforming the dry eyes of passive church-goers into wet eyes of a gospel affected hearts, and breaking through the hardest recalcitrant hearts resisting the gospel.

I was reminded that I am too apt to expect from God what I have already seen Him accomplish in the past, being too limited in my vision of the Spirit’s power, and too inhibited by unbelief. On Wednesday afternoon I realized that I am too focused on blog statistics, too focused on my puny life, too easily distracted by the temporal, too apt to forget the Holy Spirit’s power, too limited to pray for the awakening of whole cities, too selfish to pray beyond what I can accomplish on my own in one good day, too influenced by unbelief to see prayer as a priority over the distracting churning trivialities of this life.

Dr. Woodbridge reminds me of the greatness of God’s power on display in church history, and reminds me of the great God we serve, whose power is greater than we have seen and greater than we can imagine. May God give us eyes to look beyond the moment, to look back into the past, and to pray again, hope again, expect again, that God will once again answer the pleas of his children and pour out his awakening grace.

Fun in the sun

At the 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference, Mark Dever suggested Charles Spurgeon’s autobiography as the funnest book he has read. And since the long and hot poolside days of Summer are approaching I’ll take Dever up on on his suggestion for some edifying fun-in-the-sun.

Today I embark on the 1,000+ page journey of the life of Spurgeon as narrated by the man himself (Banner of Truth, 2 vol. edition). If you are looking for some great Summer reading I would encourage to embark on the journey as well. Or you may be interested to read the best biography I’ve ever read (George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore) or my favorite biography of Spurgeon (also by Dallimore). Now is a good time to plan out your Summer reading schedule.

Lawson on Whitefield’s rock

Mike Abendroth and Steven Lawson found their way to George Whitefield’s rock in Brookfield, MA. According to my research, Whitefield preached here at Foster Hill on Oct. 16, 1740 to between 400-500 souls. If this date is correct, this is within a few days from the time Whitefield would first meet (face-to-face) Jonathan Edwards (see Dallimore’s biography, 1:537). Interesting.

HT: IrishCalvinist

Favorite books

I am often asked to list my favorite books. So this week I’m going to give you my top 20 and reviews of my top 5. Drum roll, please. Here are my (ever changing) top 20 favorites …


1. Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Newer translation that is excellent in many ways.

2. The Precious Things of God, by Octavius Winslow. No book more relishes in the preciousness of the eternal things. I’ll give a fuller recommendation later in the week.

3. The Everlasting Righteousness, by Horatius Bonar. Many great books have been written on justification (how sinners are made right with God). But this one, written over a century ago, is my favorite, the most passionate and the most quotable.

4. The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer. “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” Fabulous book for those who want a grand view of God. A tiny book with a heavy message.

5. The Glory of Christ (Vol. 1 of Works), by John Owen. Few things are better than to look at the depth of Christ’s beauty. Though Owen is not easy to read he is very valuable.

6. George Whitefield, 2 vols., by Arnold Dallimore. This is my favorite biography ever. Very readable. This set of books will inflame a desire to be extinguished for Christ.

7. The New Park Street Pulpit (1855-1860), 6 vols., by C.H. Spurgeon. The early sermons of the greatest preacher in church history. All of his books and sermons are recommended but these volumes are especially precious. There is a youthful zeal to the early sermons.

8. The Works of John Bunyan, 3 vols., by John Bunyan. Bunyan was an uneducated man who was imprisoned for his non-conformist preaching of the gospel. Few have plumbed the depths of the human heart deeper than him. He remains one of the greatest preachers and maybe the most famous writer (The Pilgrims Progress) in church history. These three volumes contain all of his works and require diligence and patience. To the patient these volumes contain a lifetime of treasures!

9. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, by Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford, in my opinion, is one of the most overlooked Puritan authors. He wrote so many beautiful books and preached so many Christ-exalting sermons yet few are in print. This collection of beautiful letters was written with great spiritual insight. The Banner of Truth just released an unabridged version unavailable for many years. It will be of great use for pastors wondering how to address the Cross to specific pastoral situations.

10. Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore. My favorite biographer (Dallimore) + my Christian “hero” (Spurgeon) = a classic! Spurgeon focused on preaching, caring for widows and orphans, training pastors for the future, etc. A man who extinguished himself for the gospel!

11. Communion with God (Vol. 2 of Works), by John Owen. Deep scholarship with a burning affection for Christ. How do we relate and respond to God personally? This is the question that he answers thoroughly.

12. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols., by Jonathan Edwards. The greatest American theologian. These two works contain many of his best sermons and books. A lifetime of eternal gems are here contained for the patient reader. Though I also recommend preachers purchase a few of the Yale edition volumes (Donald Whitney especially suggests vol. 14).

13. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden. A fabulous biography whose author shows tremendous spiritual sensitivity while looking at the life of America’s great theologian/preacher.

14. God’s Passion for His Glory by John Piper and Jonathan Edwards. Not one of Edward’s easiest books to work through but a very powerful one. God does everything for Himself. Gets to the heart of the most important reality we can ever comprehend – that God loves nothing more than Himself. (A special thanks to my friend Rick Gamache for his editing of the book).

15. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. A classic book that allows the heaviness of God to come down upon the reader.

16. Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. A transforming book.

17. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever. A new book of Dever’s sermon manuscripts covering a broad and sweeping overview of the Old Testament. This book has drawn the Old Testament together for me in great ways. I now see the cohesive big picture like never before!

18. The Confessions by Augustine (Maria Boulding translation). Great classic and from what I am told this is the first true autobiography in history. In this book a sinner’s soul is honestly opened for all to see.

19. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. I like Reymond, Erickson and others, but this is my favorite systematic. I also really like what Jeff Purswell did in editing it into the book Bible Doctrine.

20. Lectures to My Students by C.H. Spurgeon. No pastor should be allowed to lead a church who has not read it at least 10 times.

Now you tell me. What are your top 5 favorite books ???

Preaching with earnestness and simplicity

Speaking of faithful preachers, George Whitefield (1714-1770) stands out in my mind as one of the greatest examples. Besides being graciously blessed with hundreds of conversions under his ministry, what makes Whitefield impressive was his simplicity and earnestness wrapped together:

“Much of the wondrous power of that extraordinary man lay in his voice and action … [Think of the text of his sermons] delivered with an utterance appropriate to their nature; with an eye melting into tears; a voice tremulous with emotion, shrill yet full, now swelling into thunder, and then dying away in soft whispers; one moment apostrophizing God, and the next piercing the sinner’s conscience with an appeal that was as sharp arrows of the Almighty; at one time pouring out a stream of impassioned pity for the sinner, and the next moment a torrent of burning indignation against his sin; his very hands, and every gesture all the while seconding his matchless elocution and seeming to help his laboring soul; all this being not the trickery of an artificial rhetoric to catch applause, but only the expression of his burning desire to produce conviction in his hearers; not the acting of a man striving after popularity, but the spontaneous gushing forth of a heart agonizing for the salvation of immortal souls! What oratory must that have been which extorted from the skeptical and fastidious Hume the confession that it was worth going twenty miles to hear, which interested the infidel Bolingbroke, and warmed even the cold and cautious Franklin into enthusiasm? In those discourses which roused a slumbering nation from the torpor of lukewarmness, and breathed new life into its dying piety, you will find no profound speculation, no subtle reasoning, no metaphysical disquisition; for these never formed, and never can form, the staple of pulpit eloquence: but you will find ‘thoughts that breathe, and words that burn;’ and that when delivered with the magic of his wondrous voice, spoke, by the blessing of God, life into thousands dead in trespasses and sins.”

– John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Banner of Truth, 1847/1993) pp. 123-124.