Whitefield’s "Joy Unspeakable"

By Evan D. Burns

While studying at Oxford, George Whitefield (1714-1770) participated in the Holy Club alongside John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother, Charles (1707-1788). He employed strict rules of discipline for the sake of attaining holiness. After leaving Oxford for a time, he read a book by Henry Scougal (1650-1678), called The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Whitefield was consequently born again. In a sermon in 1769, he testified of his new birth:

I must bear testimony to my old friend Mr. Charles Wesley, he put a book into my hands, called, The Life of God and the Soul of Man, whereby God showed me, that I must be born again, or be damned. I know the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth. [Henry Scougal] says, a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet, my brethren, not be a Christian. How did my heart rise, how did my heart shutter, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a bankrupt: yet shall I burn that book, shall I throw it down, shall I put it by, or shall I search into it? I did, and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: Lord, if I am not a Christian, if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last. I read a little further, and the cheat was discovered; oh, says the author, they that know anything of religion know it is a vital union with the son of God, Christ formed in the heart; oh what a way of divine life did break in upon my poor soul. . . .  Oh! With what joy—Joy unspeakable—even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled.[1]

[1]Michael A G. Haykin, ed., The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield, Classics of Reformed Spirituality (Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2000), 25–26.

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Please make plans to join us on the beautiful campus of Southern Seminary on October 21-22, 2014 for this one-of-a-kind celebration of the three hundredth year of George Whitefield’s birth with some of the best Whitefieldian scholars in the world .

For more information and to register, please visit events.sbts.edu/andrewfuller.


Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.