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Sweeney’s BookNotes: The Sermons of George Whitefield, 2 vols., ed. Lee Gatiss (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012)

George WhitefieldThis handy collection of sermons has been edited by the Rev. Lee Gatiss, an Anglican minister, a doctoral student at Cambridge, director-elect of the Church Society (a Church of England ministry), visiting lecturer in church history at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and editor of the British internet journal, Theologian.

Published first in the UK in the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Library (REAL, which belongs to the Church Society), these volumes feature 61 of Whitefield’s best-known sermons, most of which are taken from the fifth and sixth volumes of The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield, ed. John Gillies (1771-1772) and presented in a nearly canonical order. Seventy-nine Whitefield sermons are available in print, in one place or another, but only 57 of these were authorized (and thus revised) for the press by Whitefield himself, who felt that many of his early talks proved much too “apostolical,” impulsive, and judgmental for publication. Gatiss here reissues Whitefield’s 57 favorites, along with two others judged by Gillies to be fit for publication and another two that Gatiss deems too precious for exclusion (“The Method of Grace,” on Jeremiah 6:14, and “The Good Shepherd,” on John 10:27-28).

Gatiss himself has written a helpful introduction to the sermons, placing them in historical and theological context. His footnotes offer further information about the texts and their historical references. Gatiss has updated the sermons by lightly modernizing their grammar, spelling, punctuation, and paragraph breaks, adding numerous subheadings in order to serve the sermons to readers in bite-size helpings. He has modernized some of Whitefield’s English Bible quotations (most of which were taken from the King James Bible), but has not provided an index of any kind.

Gatiss aims these volumes at Christians, mainly evangelical Anglicans, whom Gatiss hopes to inspire to a more bold and faithful witness. Students will also want to use them, but should bear in mind that very little text-critical scholarship has been done on Whitefield’s sermons, few of whose manuscripts survive, and many of which may well be based on auditors’ transcriptions.

It is high time for someone to publish a critical edition of the extant Whitefield corpus. David Ceri Jones of Aberystwyth University is trying to raise funds to pay for a scholarly edition of the correspondence of Whitefield (roughly 4,000 letters, nearly 600 of which have not been published heretofore). May his efforts come to fruition. May they expand, in fact, to comprehend the whole of Whitefield’s corpus.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS