The Effect Of Fear Appeals On George Whitefield’s Auditors -- By: Frankie J. Melton Jr.

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 05:1 (Jan 2013)
Article: The Effect Of Fear Appeals On George Whitefield’s Auditors
Author: Frankie J. Melton Jr.


The Effect Of Fear Appeals On George Whitefield’s Auditors

Frankie J. Melton Jr.

The intention of this article is to assess the effectiveness of George Whitefield’s use of argumentum ad baculum on his auditors. Argumentum ad baculum is an appeal to fear in which a person threatens to do harm or warns of harm if his hearer does or does not do something. Whitefield viewed fear as an instrument that could bring auditors to repentance and faith. Fear was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. He said in The True Nature of Beholding the Lamb,

Thus we hear of a Judas his repenting, and of an Esau crying out with an exceeding bitter Cry, but the one all the while was a prophane Person, and the other immediately went and hanged himself. And why? Their Sorrow was only extorted by a Fear of Hell, and a despairing Sense of impending Ruin. ’Tis true, a godly Sorrow may, and I believe generally does, begin with something of this Nature; but then it does not end there. Thro’ Want of a due Consideration of this, ’tis to be fear’d, many seeming Converts have taken up with a few legal Convictions, which never ended in savingly and truly beholding the Lamb of God.1

Though fear could be effective in leading someone to godly sorrow, Whitefield acknowledged its effectiveness was limited. In his 1742 sermon on John 2, The Marriage of Cana, Whitefield entreated his audience to “Let this be the Day of your Espousals with Jesus Christ.”2 Though he had used fear appeals in most of his previous

sermons and would use them in the future, Whitefield informed his audience, “I could urge many Terrors of the Lord to perswade you; but if the Love of Jesus Christ will not constrain you, your case is desparate.”3 He recognized the inferior quality of using fear as a tool to motivate his hearers, but he made much use of fear for persuasion.

Additionally, Whitefield was not unaware of when he was using fear. In a journal entry for October 2, 1740, he recorded a rather enigmatic expression, but it nonetheless reveals his consciousness that he was using fear: “Was comforted to hear good Mr. Moody tell me, ‘That he believed I should preach to a hundred new Creatures this Morning in his congregation.’ And indeed I believe I did. For when I came to preach, I could speak little or no Terror, but almost all Consolation.”4 In The Amazing Love of Christ, Whitefield gave a clear sta...

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