Who was the Greatest Preacher of All?

Luke 9:46; Matthew 9:35
       Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest.
       And [Jesus] sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching…As that was true in the beginning as described in the book of Acts, it was also [true] after the Protestant Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Ridley—all these men were great preachers. In the 17th century you had exactly the same thing—the great Puritan preachers and others. And in the 18th century, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys, Rowland and Harris were all great preachers.

DINSDALE YOUNG (1861-1938): To my mind, Spurgeon is the greatest of all preachers the world has known during the [19th] century, if not during any century. None can measure the good those matchless discourses have accomplished and will accomplish.

WILLIAM WILBERFORCE (1759-1833): Old Newton breakfasted with me. He talked in the highest terms of Whitefield, as by far the greatest preacher he had ever known.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): As a preacher, if any man were to ask me who was the second best I had ever heard I should be at some loss; but in regard to the first, Mr. Whitefield so far exceeds every other man of my time…He was the original of popular preaching, and all our popular ministers are only his copies.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): There is no end to the interest which attaches to such a man as George Whitefield. Often as I have read his life, I am conscious of a distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. He lived. Other men seem to be only half-alive, but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing, force. My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitefield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow in his glorious track.

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): It appears, from a little account-book, wherein that great man of God, George Whitefield, minuted the times and places of his ministerial labours, that he preached upwards of eighteen thousand sermons, from the [time] of his ordination to that of his death.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): Mr. Whitefield in his public labours has for many years astonished the world with his eloquence and devotion…He speaks from the heart with a fervency of zeal perhaps unequalled since the days of the Apostles, adorning the truths he delivered with the most graceful charms of rhetoric and oratory.…From the pulpit he was unrivaled in the command of an over-crowded [audience].

JAMES HAMILTON (1814-1867): Whitefield was the prince of English preachers. Many have surpassed him as sermon-makers, but none have approached him as a pulpit orator. Many have outshone him in the clearness of their logic, the grandeur of their conceptions, and the sparkling beauty of single sentences; but in the power of darting the Gospel direct into the conscience he eclipsed them all.

CHARLES WESLEY (1707-1788): I stood by George Whitefield while he preached on the mount in Blackheath. The cries of the wounded were heard on every side.

JOHN WESLEY: Even the little improprieties both of his language and manner were a means of profiting many, who would not have been touched by a more correct discourse, or a more calm and regular manner of speaking.

JAMES HAMILTON: He combined a voice of rich compass, which could equally thrill over Moorfields in musical thunder, or whisper its terrible secret in every private ear.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: A man came*—I think it was actually in Philadelphia—on one occasion to the great George Whitefield and asked if he might print his sermons. Whitefield gave this reply; he said, “Well, I have no inherent objection, if you like, but you will never be able to put on the printed page the lightning and the thunder.” That is the distinction—the sermon, and the ‘lightning and the thunder,” To Whitefield this was of very great importance, and it should be of very great importance to all preachers…You can put the sermon into print, but not the lightning and the thunder. That comes into the act of preaching and cannot be conveyed by cold print.

JOHN NEWTON (Tuesday, 5 AM, June 10, 1755 at Whitefield’s Tabernacle): It is hard or impossible for me to give a specimen of Whitefield’s discourse [this morning]. His subject [from Psalm 142:7, Bring my soul out of prison] was concerning the various prisons a believer is liable to in passing through life. He is naturally in prison in sin and in the body, and these bring him into various other straits, such as afflictions, temptations, desertions, and the grave; all of which, from the confinement they lay us under, may be termed prisons. He afterwards spoke of the duty incumbent upon us when it pleases God to deliver us out of our temporary prisons; and for His promise of freeing us from the power of the grave we are to praise His name. Something like this was his plan. But the power, the experience, the warmth with which he treated it I can by no means express, though I hope I feel the influence of it. Still, my heart was greatly impressed, and I had little relish either for company or food all day.

ROBERT MURRAY M’CHEYNE (1813-1843): That great man scarcely ever preached without being melted into tears.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: George Whitefield was obviously gifted with a great and exceptional imagination. Incidentally it seem quite clear from the reading of the history of preaching and the biographies of preachers, that the greatest preachers have generally been greatly gifted with imagination—Whitefield clearly used his imagination freely, and I think that at times it is equally clear that it ran away with him. Take the famous occasion when Whitefield was preaching one day in the house of the Countess of Huntingdon in London―

C. H. SPURGEON: You probably recollect the instance of Whitefield depicting the blind man, with his dog, walking on the brink of precipice, and his foot almost slipping over the edge. The preacher’s description was so graphic, and the illustration so vivid and life-like, that Lord Chesterfield sprang up, and exclaimed, “Good God! he’s gone!” But Whitefield answered, “No, my lord, he is not quite gone; let us hope that he may yet be saved.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: In every age, great reformers have been great preachers…Martin Luther was pre-eminently a great preacher. So was John Calvin. Let us not forget this. These men were, first and foremost, regular preachers and great preachers. You cannot think of John Knox in Scotland for a moment without thinking of his great preaching…The pulpit will still remain the grand means of effecting the mass of men. It is God’s own method, and He will honour it. The work done by Wesley and Whitefield, and by Christmas Evans in Wales, could not have been accomplished by any other human agency—the press, for instance.

C. H. SPURGEON: To me, it is clear that we need a revival of old-fashioned Gospel preaching like that of Whitefield and Wesley; to me, preferably that of Whitefield.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): Let us not forget that our Lord Jesus was Himself a preacher.

THOMAS WATSON (1620-1686): The best of preachers.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified. Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted. But what is Calvin, or what is Luther? Let us look above names and parties; let Jesus be our all in all—So that He is preached…I care not who is uppermost. I know my place―even to be the servant of all.

*Editor’s Note: The man in Philadelphia who asked to print George Whitefield’s sermons in 1740 was Benjamin Franklin.


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