A couple of years ago, I took up the brilliant biography of George Whitefield by Thomas Kidd and was reminded afresh of the spiritual anointing that granted Whitefield unprecedented response to his simple gospel preaching.
When Whitefield preached, the crowds went crazy. Some came to heckle him. Some came to assault him. He had several attempts on his life. But many were ecstatically moved. He would preach, and people would cry out, fall down as though slain in the Spirit, scream, tear their clothes, fall sway to some kind of charismatic joy and conviction.
And though he was a dynamic preacher, it wasn’t just his preaching that caused such effect. Others would take Whitefield’s printed sermons and preach them in their own pulpits, and the resulting gospel havoc would be almost the same.
So as I was reading about all of this incredible response in Kidd’s biography, I thought to myself, I’m going to get some of these sermons. I wanted to see what might happen to me!
I ordered a two-volume collection of Whitefield sermons and began to dig into them straight away. I read one sermon, then two. I read a few more. Kept reading.
And . . . well, nothing happened. No screaming, no fainting. I didn’t rip my shirt off or anything. They are good sermons. Like the preaching of Spurgeon, Whitefield’s exposition is characteristically narrative, imagistic. He doesn’t do heady theology. He is faithfully showing Jesus in short texts and preaching to the “common man.”
I mean, they’re good. But nothing profoundly impressive happened to me. Until—
I came across one particular sermon called “Christ the Best Husband.” Now, I knew a little bit about this message from Kidd’s biography, because he spends a little bit of time recounting the circumstance and consequence of it. See, “Christ the Best Husband” was written for and directed to primarily young women—specifically, to young single women perhaps aspiring to marriage.
I was in a public place reading this selection, and as I sat there reading the sermon for the ladies, I began to weep in front of God and everybody. This is the part that did me in:
Consider who the Lord Jesus is, whom you are invited to espouse yourselves unto. He is the best husband. There is none comparable to Jesus Christ. Do you desire one that is great? He is of the highest dignity, he is the glory of heaven, the darling of eternity, admired by angels, dreaded by devils and adored by saints. For you to be espoused to so great a king, what honour will you have by this espousal?
Do you desire one that is rich? None is comparable to Christ, the fullness of the earth belongs to him. If you be espoused to Christ, you shall share in his unsearchable riches. You shall receive of his fullness, even grace for grace here and you shall hereafter be admitted to glory and shall live with this Jesus to all eternity.
Do you desire one that is wise? There is none comparable to Christ for wisdom. His knowledge is infinite and his wisdom is correspondent thereto. And if you are espoused to Christ, he will guide and counsel you and make you wise unto salvation.
Do you desire one that is strong, who may defend you against your enemies and all the insults and reproaches of the Pharisees of this generation? There is none that can equal Christ in power, for the Lord Jesus Christ hath all power.
Do you desire one that is good? There is none like unto Christ in this regard; others may have some goodness but it is imperfect. Christ’s goodness is complete and perfect, he is full of goodness and in him dwelleth no evil.
Do you desire one that is beautiful? His eyes are most sparkling, his looks and glances of love are ravishing, his smiles are most delightful and refreshing unto the soul. Christ is the most lovely person of all others in the world.
Do you desire one that can love you? None can love you like Christ: His love, my dear sisters, is incomprehensible; his love passeth all other loves: The love of the Lord Jesus is first, without beginning. His love is free without any motive. His love is great without any measure. His love is constant without any change and his love is everlasting.
Oh everything we look for everywhere else but God can only be found in God!
Every greatness, every wealth, every wisdom, every power, every goodness, every beauty, and every love we are longing for can only be found in him, and in him we find the apex of all these virtues and more. Even the best of all earthly versions of these virtues are but pale substitutes. Even the most joyous marriage, the most blessed parenthood, the most adorable of babies virtually disappears in the radiance of his most joyous of joys, most blessed of blessedness, most adorable of adorability as the stars disappear when the sun comes up.
(A version of this post appeared previously in my book The Imperfect Disciple.)