He first gave the bad news so that
people would appreciate the Good News

Much has been said of George Whitefield’s oratorical abilities. Benjamin Franklin said that even if you did not agree with the substance of his message, it was a pleasant experience to listen to him, in the same way one enjoys listening to good music.
Although his preaching style was certainly attractive, that alone cannot account for the transformation of America that took place under his ministry. Neither can it be attributed to great singing for there were no choirs, praise bands or worship teams that travelled with him. Neither can it be attributed to organizational skills, for he had no business manager setting up meetings for him.
The Message Itself
The answer lies, instead, in the Message itself—the gospel message backed by prayer and consecration. This understanding is critical, for in Romans 1:16, Paul speaks of the inherent power of the gospel message, and in I Corinthians 1:17, warns that if we go too far in attempting to make the gospel message “cool, hip and acceptable” to contemporary culture, we run the risk of preaching a message that has been emptied of its power. (NIV).
Whitefield was concentrated on the message. He lived and breathed God’s word. Concerning the early days of His ministry, he wrote,
My mind now being more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures on my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and every word (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 12).
He did not rely on testimonies or feel-good anecdotal stories for his sermons. His preaching was Biblical and Christ-centered. He would take a passage of Scripture, such as the healing of blind Bartimaeus, the faith of Abraham in offering up Isaac, or the parable of the ten virgins, and expound on it.
No matter which passage he used, he always made application to mankind’s lost condition and Jesus Christ as the only remedy for sin and the only way to be reconciled to God.
Recognizing the risk of oversimplifying the matter, Whitefield’s message can, I believe, be divided into three distinct categories.
1.  The dire condition of fallen, sinful humanity, separated from God and deserving of eternal damnation.
2.  The wondrous mercy and grace of God shown toward sinful humanity in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
3.  The necessity of a new birth, and the inadequacy of baptism, church membership, and all religious externals in which people have placed their hope.
Humanity’s Fallen Condition
Whitefield emphasized the truth of humanity’s sinfulness and lostness outside of Christ. Benjamin Franklin mentioned this in his Autobiography, telling how he was surprised that the people so admired and respected Whitefield despite the fact that, in Franklin's words, “he commonly abused them, assuring them they were no more than half-devils and half-beasts” (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 51).
When this author first read this statement of Franklin, I assumed he was using hyperbole in speaking of Whitefield’s preaching on the sinful condition of fallen humanity. However, in a later reading of Whitefield’s sermons, I discovered that Franklin was accurately describing Whitefield’s message.
Preaching from the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse to a massive crowd that included Franklin and the leading citizens of that city, Whitfield did not hold back, but in stark terms, and a bit of hyperbole, painted a very unflattering picture of the fallen state of humanity. As the huge crowd stood and listened in rapt silence, Whitefield’s passionate and melodious voice pierced the atmosphere.
But let these modern, polite gentlemen, and my letter-learned brethren, paint man [humanity] in as lovely colors as they please; I will not do it; I dare not make him less than the word of God does. If I was to paint man in his proper colors, I must go to the kingdom of hell for a copy; for man is by nature full of pride, subtlety, malice, envy, revenge and all un-charitableness; and what are these but the temper of the devil? And lust, sensuality, pleasure, these are the tempers of the beast. Thus, my brethren, man is half a beast and half a devil (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 51-52).
Whitefield understood that humanity had been created a noble creature in the image and likeness of God. He also understood that the image had been marred by the fall and sin as described in Genesis 3. He is here describing, with some hyperbole, the awful condition of mankind in his fallen state, separated from God.
It has been said that the gospel is not really “good news” until we hear and understand the “bad news.” Whitefield was a master at painting the bad news for his audiences, but he was just as adept at presenting the good news of God’s love and grace for humanity. The contrast had a powerful effect on his audiences.
God’s Wondrous Love Revealed in Jesus Christ
After showing their lost, natural state, Whitefield always proceeded to point his audience to Jesus Christ alone as God’s answer for mankind’s dilemma. He made much of the wonderous grace and mercy shown to mankind through Jesus Christ. The contrast with mankind’s rebellious and sinful state provided a stunning comparison, and Whitefield often wept as he talked of the stupendous love and grace of God in coming to this world in the person of Jesus Christ.
In preaching to one large outdoor audience on Abraham’s offering up of Isaac, Whitefield had the crowd in tears as he described the love of Abraham for his son, and the emotions he must have experienced in binding his son and laying him on the altar. He then exhorted,
I see your hearts affected; I see your eyes weep. But behold I show you a mystery, hid under the sacrifice of Abraham’s only son, which, unless your hearts are hardened, must cause you to weep tears of love. How much more ought you to extol, magnify, and adore the love of God, who so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. May we not well cry out, “Now know we, O Lord, that you have loved us, since you have not withheld your Son, your only Son from us.

Oh, stupendous love! While we were His enemies, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might become a curse for us. Oh, the freeness, as well as the infinity of the love of God our Father! It is unserachable; I am lost contemplating it; it is past finding out! (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 53).
The Necessity of a New Birth
Whitefield emphasized that many professing Christians had built their faith on faulty foundations, such as church membership, good deeds, family pedigree, social status, and cultural refinement. He emphasized that these old foundations must be overturned and faith in Jesus Christ alone must be laid as the only foundation for acceptance with God.
He brought this vividly to the minds of a large audience as he preached on the parable of the ten virgins from Matthew 25:1-13. He pointed out that all ten were virgins, and all had lamps, which he said symbolized their outward profession. Only the five wise virgins, however, had oil in their lamps, which Whitfield said symbolized a new heart brought about by a living faith in Christ alone. He told of the five foolish virgins knocking at the door of the wedding but being turned away by the Lord.
“Lord, Lord,” say they, as though they were intimately acquainted with the holy Jesus. Like numbers among us who, because they go to church, repeat their creeds, and receive the blessed sacrament, think they have a right to call Jesus their Savior and dare call God their Father, when they put up the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus is not your Savior. The devil, not God, is your father, unless your hearts are purified by faith and you are born again from above. It is not merely being baptized with water, but being born again of the Holy Ghost that must qualify you for salvation; and it will do you no service at that great day, to say unto Christ, “Lord, my name is in the register of such and such parish.” I am persuaded the foolish virgins could say this and more (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 54-55).
The Message Impacted America’s Founding
Whitefield’s preaching had an astounding impact on Colonial America. Everywhere he travelled, farmers left their plows, merchants closed their shops and mechanics threw down their tools and rushed to the place where he would preach. At a time when the population of Boston was around 17,000, Whitefield preached to an estimated crowd of 20,000 on the Boston Common.
Benjamin Franklin told of the transformation that came over Philadelphia when Whitefield preached to massive crowds from the steps of the courthouse, He wrote,
The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was a matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 32).
Although accounts of his meetings often describe the multitudes as standing and listening in rapt silence, accounts also reveal intense emotional responses at times, as the gospel message he preached gripped their hears. On one occasion, after preaching to a huge throng gathered outdoors, Whitfield surveyed the crowd and noted the amazing response. He wrote in his Journal,
Look where I would, most were drowned in tears. Some were struck pale as death, others wringing their hands, others lying on the ground, others sinking into the arms of their friends and most lifting up their eyes to heaven and crying out to God (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 35).
In Delaware he preached to a crowd of twelve thousand. As he preached, there was such an outpouring of God’s Spirit that Whitefield himself was overcome along with his audience. He wrote,
I had not spoken long before I perceived a melting. As I proceeded, thousands cried out so that they almost drowned my voice. Never did I see a more glorious sight. Oh what tears were shed and poured forth after the Lord Jesus. Some fainted; and when they had got a little strength, they would hear and faint again. After I had finished my last discourse, I was so pierced, as it were, and overpowered with a sense of God’s love, that some thought, I believe, I was about to give up the ghost. How sweetly did I lie at the feet of Jesus (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 35).
Benjamin Franklin and Colonial America were never the same after George Whitefield. Because of his profound impact, Thomas S. Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University, has called Whitfield, “America’s Spiritual Founding Father.”
What was Whitefield’s secret? Was it his personality? Was it his style? No! I am convinced that it was his message! I am here reminded of Romans 1:16 where Paul said, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . ..
What We Can Learn from Whitefield
Our modern mega churches, award winning worship music, new apostles, and high-level spiritual warfare have not produced an Awakening such as came forth through the preaching of Whitefield. Why is this?
Is it possible we have gone too far in attempting to make the gospel message pleasing to contemporary culture? Is it thus possible that we are preaching a gospel message emptied of its power, as Paul warned in I Corinthians 1:17?
Whitefield’s life and ministry stand in sharp contrast to such compromise. He lived and preached in the light of eternity and often spoke of the time he and his hearers would stand before the Lord and give an account for how they had handled the gospel message. In one sermon, he declared,
Remember, we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ where ministers must give a strict account of the doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict a one, how you have improved under it. Will you then allege that you went to hear out of curiosity, to pass away an idle hour, to admire the oratory, or to ridicule the preacher? No, God will then let you know that you ought to have come out of better principles (Hyatt, George Whitefield, 57).
In this era when style too often preempts substance, and popularity takes precedence over purity, it is time that we prayerfully evaluate the message we are presenting to our generation. Is it the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ? Or, is it a watered-down version designed not to offend contemporary culture? In this task of purifying our message, Whitefield can help lighten our path.
This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt’s latest book, George Whitefield, available from Amazon in both paperback and kindle. To learn more about his vision for America and the world, visit his website at www.eddiehyatt.com.