The Almost Christian

by George Whitefield
The following is a sermon preached in 1771-72 by the great evangelist George Whitefield. I have seen the credit given to the trio of George Whitefield, and John and Charles Wesley as being "the fathers of modern evangelicalism".
The people of Whitefield's day were more biblically trained than many today. His sermons are filled with references to biblical accounts his listeners would have been familiar with. I have listed references for readers to go to, if unfamiliar with the passage or story Whitefield was refering to. He made references to many verses quoting from memory. The quotes are not always word for word from the King James Version. I have endeavored to leave them as he quoted them adding the reference for exact comparison. Due to the old English Whitefield spoke in, I found people needed an updated edition or they simply quit reading. Here is my effort at providing this message for modern readers.
- Darrell Farkas

Acts 26:28 ". . . Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."

The chapter our verse comes from, tells us of the Apostle Paul's wonderful conversion. He came out of Judaism and became a follower of Jesus Christ. He is telling us the account, as he stands before the Gentile governor Festus and King Agrippa, in a courtroom scene. Jesus said that after His crucificion, "his disciples should be brought before kings and rulers, for his name's sake, for a testimony unto them." (From Luke 21:12,13.) God, in His infinite wisdom, decided it should be this way. He knew this was the only way high earthly officials could really have the chance to hear the Gospel and possibly repent. The earthly rulers would see the doctrine of the cross as being a teaching of rather poor teachers. They would also consider themselves as living so richly in this world that they would rather not be disturbed by unwelcome truths. When they had to listen to them, in the necessity of their courtrooms, they had to listen to "Jesus and the resurrection". Paul knew this was the main reason Jesus permitted this courtroom occasion to come about. Seeing his opportunity, Paul did more than just make his defense, he tried his best to convert his judges! Festus, as he witnessed this living demonstration of the spirit, and of power, hardened his heart and cried out, "Paul, much learning doth make thee mad." (From Acts 26:24.) to which the faithful Paul meekly replied, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness." (From 26:25.) As Paul observes the situation, he likely senses King Agrippa is more open, so directs his attention to him saying, "The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him." (From 26:26.) Then, if possible to get that desired conversion, moves in more closely, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them." (From 26:27.) At which the king was so strongly affected he cried out, "Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (From 26:28.)

These words, in context, give a powerful example of the reception Christian doctrine gets in the minds of men today. Ministers, like the Apostle Paul, who are preaching in the spirit and power, "speak forth the words of truth and soberness;" meet with resistance similar to that offered by Festus. Like him, they are either too proud, too sensual, too careless or too worldly-minded to live up to the doctrines. In order to excuse themselves, they cry out that "much learning, much study, or, what is more unaccountable, much piety, hath made them mad." Praise God, not everyone reacts like that. Unfortunately, among those who do have some "ears to hear" (Matthew 11:15, etc.) even they often go no further than the response we see from King Agrippa. To only become, "almost a Christian" is a dangerous state. The passage we have looked over shows the following three points to get out of such danger.

First: What is meant by an "almost Christian"?

Second: What are the main reasons many are no more than "almost Christians"?

Third: What lack of change, danger, absurdity and uneasiness attends "almost Christians"?
This will conclude with a call to truly become Christian.

Taking a look at the "almost Christian", we will want to consider his duty to God is one that stands between two opinions. It wavers between Christ and the world. He reconciles God and Mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. (From 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.) It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but is careful in case he goes too far in it. His heart is always crying, "Spare thyself, do thyself no harm" (Expression from Acts 16:28). He prays, "God's will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." (From the Lord's prayer - Matthew 6:10), but is partial in obedience. Fondly hoping God won't be extreme to note everything he willfully does wrong, though the inspired scripture tells us, "he who offends in one point is guilty of all." (from James 2:10) Mainly, he is one that depends on outward ordinances. On that account, he looks upon himself as righteous and despises others (From Luke 18:9.); though at the same time he is as ignorant of divine life as any. In short, he is fond of form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. He goes on year after year, attending to his religion, but (like Pharaoh's emaciated cow - Genesis 41:1-7) never the better for it. He only grows worse.
In respect to his neighbor, he is strictly just to all. This does not proceed from love to God or regard to man. He does this from self-love, because he knows dishonesty will spoil his reputation. This will hinder his thriving in the world.
He counts a lot on not having committed any really bad crime. The Gospel tells him this dire warning of, "the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness," (from Matthew 25:30) and the barren fig-tree was cursed and dried up from the roots (Mathew 21:19), not for bearing bad, but for bearing no fruit.
He certainly is no enemy of charities in public, if not mentioned too often. He is however unacquainted with visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, and relieving the hungry in a private manner. He thinks these things belong to the clergy. His false heart, which is filled with nothing but pride, keeps him from walking in humility. He hardens his heart against the warning Jesus Christ gave in Matthew chapter 25. Christ condemned the persons to everlasting punishment for more than being fornicators, drunkards, and extortioners. He condemned them for neglecting these duties of charity, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, he shall set the sheep on his right-hand, and the goats on his left. And then shall he say unto them on his left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also say, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or a-thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? then shall he answer them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not unto me: and these shall go away into everlasting punishment." (From Matthew 25:31,33,41-43,45-46.) I thought it a good idea to look at this whole passage since our Savior lays such stress upon it. Judging by the practice of Christians though, one would be tempted to think there weren't such verses in the Bible.

Looking further into the character of the "almost Christian", we will notice he is strictly sober in himself, as we noted he is strictly honest to his neighbor. Both his honesty and his sobriety come from the same principle of self-love. It is true, he doesn't run in the same "excess of riot" (From 1 Peter 4:4.) with other men. This does not come from obedience to the laws of God or because he can't physically handle the bottle. His motivation is the protection of his reputation and not risking damage to his business. He is prudent enough to avoid intemperance and excess, for the reasons mentioned, yet always pushes the limits of the law. It is also true, he isn't a drunk, but he also has no Christian Self-Denial. He cannot accept our Savior would be so hard as to deny us the priviledge of indulging in some particulars. By this means, he is destitute of a sense of true religion just as much as if he lived in debauchery or any other crime. As to setting his principles and practice, he is guided more by the world than by the word of God. As far as he is concerned, he cannot think the way to heaven is as narrow as some would make it. On account of this, he doesn't consider what the scripture requires as much as what a certain "good man" does, or what suits his own corrupted tendencies. Since his character is such, he is not only cautious to keep himself from "extremes", but he gets very concerned when he sees young converts, whose faces are looking heavenward. Therefore, he is always playing the devil's part, encouraging them to spare themselves, though they are doing no more than what scripture requires. The consequence is, "he suffers not himself to enter into the kingdom of God, and those that are entering in he hinders." (from Luke 11:52)

Here we have seen the "almost Christian". I haven't fully described him, but from these points, your consciences have been provided with enough to look at your hearts for consideration. I fear some will recognize these as your characteristics, though they are so offensive. For those fulfilling this fear, I hope you will join the Apostle Paul in the words following the text, and wish yourself, "to be not only almost, but altogether Christians."

I would like to consider why many are no more than "almost Christians".
I see the first reason as being many set out with false ideas of religion. They live in a Christian country, yet don't know what Christianity is. This may be hard to accept, but experience sadly shows the truth of it. Some consider religion as being of this or that denomination. They consider it as being more in morality, most in a round of duties and a model of performances. Few, very few acknowledge it to be what it really is: a thorough inward change of nature, a divine life, a vital participation of Jesus Christ, a union of the soul with God; which the apostle expresses by saying, "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." (From 1 Corinthians 6:17.) So it happens that many, even the most knowledgeable professors, when you sit and talk with them concerning the essence, the life, the soul of religion, our new birth in Jesus Christ, confess themselves quite ignorant of the matter. They cry with Nicodemus, "How can this thing be?" (From John 3:9.) No wonder so many are only "almost Christians", when so many have no idea what Christianity is. It is no wonder many take up with a form when they are strangers to the power of godliness. (From 2 Timothy 3:5.) They content themselves with the shadow, when they know so little about the substance of it. This is one cause why so many are almost, and so few are altogether Christians.

The second reason many are no more than "almost Christians", is the fear of man. There are, and have been, many who have been awakened to the sense of the divine life, and have tasted and felt the powers of the world to come; yet, out of a base, sinful fear of being considered singular, or hated by men, have suffered all those good impressions to wear off. (From Hebrews 6:4,5.) It is true, they have some esteem for Jesus Christ; but like Nicodemus, they would only come to Him by night. They are willing to serve Him, but they would do it secretly, for fear of the Jews. They have a mind to see Jesus, but they cannot come to Him because of the press and for fear of being laughed at and ridiculed by those they used to eat with. Our Savior prophesied well of such persons in, "How can ye love me, who receive honor one of another?" (From John 5:44.) Alas! have they never read that, "the friendship of this world is enmity with God;"? (From James 4:4.) Our Lord Himself has threatened, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me or of my words, in this wicked and adulterous generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father and of his holy angels?" (From Mark 8:38.) No wonder so many are no more than "almost Christians", since so many, "love the praise of men more than the honor which cometh of God." (From John 12:43.)

The third reason many are no more than "almost Christians" is a reigning love of money. This was the sad case of that forward young man in the Gospel. He came running to our blessed Lord, kneeled before Him and asked, "what he must do to inherit eternal life;". (From Mark 10:17.) The blessed Master answered, "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal;" (10:19) To which the young man replied, "All these have I kept from my youth." (10:20) When our Lord proceeded to tell him, "Yet lackest thou one thing; Go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; he was grieved at that saying, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions!" (From 10:21-22.) Poor youth! He had a good mind to be a Christian, and to inherit eternal life, but thought it too costly, if it could be purchased at no less than his entire estate! Thus many, both young and old come running to worship our blessed Lord in public. They kneel before him in private, and inquire at his Gospel what they must do to inherit eternal life. When they find they must renounce the self-enjoyment of riches, and forsake all affection to follow him, they cry, "The Lord pardon us in this thing! We pray thee, have us excused." (From Luke 14:18-20.)
Is heaven so small in men's eyes, as not to be worth a little golden earth? Is eternal life so small a purchase, as not to deserve the forsaking of a few temporary riches? Surely it is. However inconsistent such behavior is, this love of money is clearly the common and fatal cause, why many are no more than "almost Christians".

The Fourth: The love of pleasure is no less common, nor less fatal a cause why many are no more than "almost Christians". Thousands and ten thousands despise riches, and would willingly be true disciples of Jesus Christ, if parting with their money would make them so. When told that our blessed Lord has said, "Whosoever will come after Him must deny himself;" (From Matthew 16:24, etc.) like the sad young man mentioned before, "they go away sorrowful" for they greatly love sensual pleasures. Perhaps they will send for the ministers of Christ, as Herod did for John the Baptist, and gladly hear them. Touch them on their personal "Herodias" (From Matthew 14:3.), telling them they must part with such a dear pleasure, and like the wicked King Ahab, they will cry, "Hast thou found us, O our enemy?" (From 1 Kings 21:20.) Tell them of the necessity of dying to their personal will and of self-denial, and they find this intolerable. You might as well have asked them to "cut off a right hand, or pluck out a right eye." (From Matthew 5:29,30.) They cannot think our blessed Lord would require so much as their hands, even though the inspired scripture commands, "mortify our members which are upon earth." (From Colossians 3:5.) The apostle who wrote those words of scripture, after he had converted thousands, and was near the end of his earthly life, professed that it was his daily practice to "keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, lest after he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away!" (From 1 Corinthians 9:27.)
Some men think they are wiser than this great apostle, and tell us there is an easier way to happiness. They flatter us saying we may go to heaven without going against sensual appetites. They tell us we may enter into the strait gate (From Matthew 7:13, etc.) without resisting our carnal inclinations. This is another reason why many are only "almost Christians" instead of truly altogether Christians.

The fifth and final reason I would like to examine as to why many are only "almost Christians", is a fickleness and instability in their temperament.
Undoubtedly, it has been a sorrow to many ministers and sincere Christians to be burdened over promising converts who seemingly began in the Spirit, but fell away after time. They ended up living in the flesh. This wasn't due to false doctrine in the Christian faith, nor because of the fear of man, nor from the love of money, or of sensual pleasure, but through the instability and fickleness of their temperament. They looked upon religion because it was something new and different. It pleased them for a while, but after their curiosity was satisfied, they laid it aside. Like the young man that came to see Jesus with a linen cloth about his naked body, they have followed him for a season. (From Mark 14:51,52.) When temptations came, for want of a little more resolution, they have been stripped of all good intentions, and fled away naked. At first, like a tree planted by the water, they grew and flourished. Having no root in themselves, no inward principle of holiness and piety, like Jonah's gourd, they dried up and withered. (From Jonah 4:6,7.) Their good intentions are like the wild thrashings of some animal that has just been killed. They may seem powerful but are not long lasting. These start out well in their journey to heaven, but find the way either narrower or longer than expected. Through an instability of their temperament, they have come to an eternal halt. They, "returned like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire!" (From 2 Peter 2:22.)
I tremble to pronouce the fate of such unstable people as these. They put their hands to the plough, and for lack of a little more resolution, shamefully look back. How shall I repeat to them that dreadful threatening, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him:" (From Hebrews 10:38.) and again, "It is impossible (that is, exceeding difficult at least) for those that have been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come, if they should fall away, to be renewed again unto repentance." (From Hebrews 6:4-6.) Notwithstanding the severity of the Gospel against apostates, many that began well, through a fickleness of temperament, (O that none of us here present may ever be such) have been of those that turned back unto perdition. This is the fifth, and last reason I shall give why many are only "almost Christians" and not altogether Christians.

We shall look at the folly of being no more than an "almost Christian".
The first proof of this path being foolishness is that it will not bring about our salvation. It is true, such men are almost good; but to almost hit the mark of your target is really to miss it. God requires us, "to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength." (From Luke 10:27.) He loves us too much to allow any rival; because, inasmuch as our hearts are empty of God, so far they must be unhappy. The devil, indeed, like the false mother that came before King Solomon, would have our hearts divided, as she would have had the child. (From 1 Kings 3:16-27.) God, like the true mother, will have all or none. "My Son, give me thy heart," your whole heart, is the general call to all. If this isn't done, we can't ever expect to find the divine mercy.
Persons may play the hypocrite, but God, at the great day, will strike them dead, (as He did to Ananias and Sapphira by the mouth of his servant Peter - Acts 5:1-11) for pretending to give him all their hearts when they kept back the greatest part. They may pass themselves off as Christians for a while, but He that enabled Elijah to cry out, "Come in thou wife of Jeroboam," (From 1 King 14:6.) when she came disguised to inquire about her sick son, will also be exposed, though they play their part well. If their hearts are not entirely with Him, He will appoint them their portion with the hypocrites and unbelievers. (From Matthew 24:51 and Luke 12:46.) The second point of folly of a partial piety, beyond being worthless for our own salvation, is it will turn others away from becoming true Christians.
An "almost Christian" is one of the most damaging things in this world. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is one of those false prophets, our blessed Lord warns us to beware of in his sermon on the mount. He would tell us the way to heaven is broader than it really is. The result being they, "enter not into the kingdom of God themselves, and those that are entering in they hinder." (From Luke 11:52.) These are the men that turn the world into a lukewarm Laodicea. (From Revelation 3:14-22.) They hang out false lights, and shipwreck unthinking, darkened souls in their voyage to the eternal haven. These are greater enemies to the cross of Christ than infidels themselves. You see, everyone will be aware of an unbeliever, but an "almost Christian", through subtle hypocrisy, draws many after him. They, therefore must expect a greater damnation.
Thirdly, beyond costing our own souls and endangering others, it is the greatest instance of ingratitude we could possibly show towards our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. He came from heaven and shed His precious blood to purchase our hearts. Shall we only give Him half of them? How can we say we love Him when our hearts are not completely with Him? How can we call Him our Savior when we won't sincerely seek to live to gain His complete approval. He travailed in soul for our souls and He should be satisfied when He looks upon us.
(In the following paragraph we find an illustration refering to the slavery that was a part of everyday life in George Whitefield's day. Concern about slavery at that time, chiefly weighed on the issue of whether a slave was treated decently or abusively. That is what we see him bringing up for illustration here.)
Now lets imagine we were in an area where we were seeing slaves serving their masters. There we observe a cruelly treated slave. We see an opportunity to show mercy to this poor slave. The owner offers to sell him to us at a most expensive rate. We take the offer and save him from the greatest of misery and torment. He returns with us and grows rebellious. He refuses to even assist us with anything more than half an effort. How much we would be shocked at such ingratitude! I must say, whoever acknowledges he has been saved from eternal misery and punishment by the death of Jesus Christ, yet won't entirely serve Him, is such a slave as the one described. Shall we deal with God our Maker in a manner we wouldn't allow a man to deal with us. God forbid! No. Please listen to my appeal. Don't just be an "almost Christian", cross over to becoming altogether Christians. Scorn all base and treacherous treatment of our King and Savior, of our God and Creator. Let's not give small sacrifices all our lives to go to heaven, yet plung into hell at last. Lets give God our whole hearts, no longer hesitating between two opinions. If the world be God, let us serve that; if pleasure be God, let us serve that; but if the Lord be God, let us serve Him. (From Joshua 24:15.) Alas! Why should we stand out any longer? Why should we love slavery so much, as not wholly to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. They, like so many spiritual chains, bind our souls, hindering them from flying to God. Alas! What are we afraid of? Isn't God able to reward our entire obedience? If He is, as the "almost Christian's" lame service to God would seem to grant, why won't we serve Him entirely? For the same reason we do so much, why don't we do more? Do you think that being only half religious will make you happy while going all the way will render you miserable and uneasy? Alas! My brethren, this is nothing but a delusion. What is it, but this halfway religion, this wavering between God and the world, that makes many who seemed so inclined, to be total strangers to the comforts of true religion? They choose just enough of religion to bother them in their lusts, and follow their lusts just enough to deprive them of the comforts of true religion. On the contrary, if they would sincerely leave those affections and give their hearts entirely to God, they would experience the unspeakable pleasure of having a mind at unity with itself and enjoy a peace of God. This peace of God passes all understanding. (From Philippians 4:7.) We can partake of this peace now, but not until we are entirely given to God. It is true, if we devote ourselves entirely to God, we must meet with contempt, but this is necessary to heal our pride. We must renounce some sensual pleasures, but that is because those unfit us for spiritual ones. These are infinitely better. We must renounce the love of the world; but that is so we may be filled with the love of God. When that has enlarged our hearts, we shall, like Jacob in his service for his beloved Rachel (From Genesis 29:18-20.), think nothing too hard or tedious to endure because of the love we shall have for our dear Redeemer. The ways of God, even in this life, will be easy and delightful then. When the time comes for our leaving this life, and our souls are filled with the fullness of God. Oh! what heart can imagine, what tongue express, what unspeakable joy and consolation when we look back on our sincere and complete services. Do you think we shall repent for having done too much? Rather, we shall be ashamed we didn't do more. We shall blush we were so backward in giving all to God when He intended to give us Himself?

I would exhort you, my brethren, to always keep the unspeakable happiness of enjoying God in front of you. Consider that every little bit of holiness you neglect, every act of piety you omit, is a jewel taken out of your crown, a degree of blessedness lost in the plan of God. Oh! always think and act this way, and you won't be struggling over the two opinions between God and the world. On the contrary, every day endeavor to give yourselves more and more to Him. You will always be watching, praying and aspiring in greater degrees of purity and love. Consequently, you will always be preparing yourselves for a greater sight and enjoyment of God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Amen! Amen! (From Psalm 16:11.)

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All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible

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