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.