Real Friendship Evangelism

One of the benefits of biography is that it takes us out of ourselves and motivates us to greater faith and works as we are inspired by the life of the person we are reading about.  Enjoy and be encouraged by the account of George Whitefield as he rode across the Atlantic in a boat full of men who had no desire to know Jesus:

“On his first morning on board Whitefield declared his intention “to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  This brought ridicule from the soldiers and sailors and their captains. 

‘The first Lord’s Day,’ he wrote, ‘nothing was to be seen but cards and little to be heard but cursing and swearing.  I could do no more than, whilst I was writing, now and then turn my head by way of reproof to a lieutenant who swore as though he was born of a swearing constitution.  Now and then he would take my hint, return my nod with a “Doctor, I ask your pardon,” and then return to his swearing and cards again.’

In the face of this unpromising situation, Whitefield began his attempt to reach all on board with the gospel. His tact and zeal are well-expressed in the statement, “Oh, that I may catch them with a holy guile!”

The living conditions on such a vessel were undoubtedly wretched.  Whitefield had brought with him many tasty items of food and several medicines, and since there was much sickness among the passengers, he went among them every day dispensing of his supply and giving encouragement.  Each morning and evening he read prayers on the open deck, although for the time he did not attempt to preach, lest he deter the people from attending.

After only four days, however, he began a catechism class for the soldiers.  Only six or seven were present on the first morning, but the number steadily increased until in a week’s time the attendance amounted to twenty, and he added to the study and exposition of Lord’s Prayer.  Then, finding this was accepted, he began to preach whenever he read prayers. 

To these public efforts Whitefield added personal associations.  “He breakfasted with some of the gentlemen” and reported an hour’s conversation with another “on our fall in Adam and the necessity of the new birth.”  He walked at night on the deck in order to talk to the chief mate, and on another occasion, “About eleven at night [he] sat down with the sailors in the steerage, and reasoned with them about righteousness, temperance, and the judgement to come.” 

Steadily gaining the goodwill of all on board, Whitefield began a daily catechism class for the women and soon added a Bible study.  He also had James Hbersham, a man he had brought with him, give instruction in elementary education for the children, and he invited any soldiers or sailors who wished to learn to read to attend.

While having a “dish of coffee” with the captain of the soldiers, Whitefield suggested that he would like to bring a short message to the captain and the other gentlemen in the great cabin.  The captain shortly agreed and “expressed his appreciation of the good [he] was doing” among his men.  Then the captain of the sailors ordered that chairs be set out on the deck and planks laid across them, this making the deck of the Whitaker into a sort of floating chapel.  Whitefield had also arranged “to meet any soldiers who could sing by not, to join in Divine Psalmody every day,” thereby undoubtedly supplying his meeting with a male choir. And daily he preached to almost all on board.

The ship docked first at Gibraltar, and the change on board was widely noticeable. Although but seven weeks earlier the men had been a scornful, cursing company, they now “stood forth like little children to say their Catechism,” many read their Bibles regularly, and almost all attended services both morning and evening.  Such were the fruits of Whitefield’s labor in that short period of time.  And when he left Gibraltar, “many came to him, weeping, telling him what God had done for their souls,” and bringing him gifts.

~ from Arthur Dallimore’s ‘George Whitefield, God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century, 1990, published by Crossway

May our “friendship evangelism” look more like George Whitefield’s, who was a friendly person from whom the love of Christ was demonstrated in all of his words and deed.  He let them know up front who he was, instead of trying to be friendly apart from Jesus – and the results were supernatural.