George Whitefield and Preaching the New Birth

While reading in George Whitefield’s sermons and journals for an academic project I found the grand itinerant helping my preaching. Whitefield is instructive for many reasons (Spurgeon said if he had any model in ministry, it was Whitefield), but I have especially been learning from his clear communication that “you must be born again!” If these words of Jesus are true (and of course they are), then it is imperative for every preacher to proclaim the new birth effectively. A good place to start is On Regeneration. Here are a few reasons why studying this classic Whitefield sermon can serve our own preaching:
Whitefield is clear on the priority of the new birth. He calls it “the very hinge on which the salvation of each of us turns, and a point on which all sincere Christians, of whatever denomination, agree.”
Whitefield is clear on why we need the new birth. One of the most arresting reasons he gives is that unrenewed man cannot enjoy Heaven apart from the new birth: “It is true, we may flatter ourselves, that, supposing we continue in our natural corrupt estate, and carry all our lusts along with us, we should, notwithstanding, relish heaven, was God to admit us therein. And so we might, was it a Mahometan paradise, wherein we were to take our full swing in sensual delights. But since its joys are only spiritual, and no unclean thing can possibly enter those blessed mansions, there is an absolute necessity of our being changed, and undergoing a total renovation of our deprave natures, before we can have any taste or relish of those heavenly pleasures.”
Whitefield is clear on who needs the new birth. He warns those who rest in “a bare performance of outward duties, without perceiving any real inward change of heart;” in “the attainment of some moral virtues, and falsely imagine they are good Christians, if they are just in their dealings, temperate in their diet, and do not hurt or violence to any man;” and in “a partial amendment of themselves, without experiencing a thorough, real, inward change of heart.” These are helpful categories—surely every preacher is addressing each of these on a weekly basis!
Whitefield is clear on the nature of true godliness that flows from the new birth: “The sum of the matter is this: Christianity includes morality, as grace does reason; but if we are only mere moralists, if we are not inwardly wrought upon, and changed by the powerful operations of the Holy Spirit, and our moral actions proceed from a principle of a new nature, however we may call ourselves Christians, it is to be feared that we shall be found naked at the Great Day, and in the number of those, who vainly depend on their own righteousness, and not on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to and inherent in them, as necessary to their eternal salvation.”
Finally, Whitefield is clear in calling his listeners to respond to the new birth: “Let each of us therefore seriously put this question to our hearts: Have we received the Holy Ghost since we believed? Are we new creatures in Christ, or no?”
I commend this sermon to you. May God use it to bring many to experience the “saving change,” and perhaps even to spark another Great Awakening!

Eric Smith is the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee. He and his wife, Candace, have three children: Coleman, Crockett, and Clarabelle. Eric is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.