DIED: September 30, 1770
was the most traveled preacher of the gospel up to his time and many feel he
was the greatest evangelist of all time. Making 13 trips across the Atlantic
Ocean was a feat in itself, for it was during a
time when sea travel was primitive. This meant he spent over two years of his
life traveling on water -- 782 days. However, his diligence and sacrifice
helped turn two nations back to God. Jonathan Edwards was stirring things up
in New England,
and John Wesley was doing the same in England. Whitefield
completed the trio of men humanly responsible for the great awakening on both
sides of the Atlantic.
He spent about 24 years of ministry in the British
Isles and about nine more years in America, speaking
to some ten million souls.
It is said
his voice could be heard a mile away, and his open-air preaching reached as
many as 100,000 in one gathering! His crowds were the greatest ever assembled
to hear the preaching of the gospel before the days of amplification--and, if
we might add, before the days of advertising.
born in the Bell Inn where his father, Thomas, was a wine merchant and
innkeeper. The father died when George was two. George was the youngest of
seven children. His widowed mother, Elizabeth (born in 1680), struggled to keep
the family together. When the lad was about ten his mother remarried, but it
was not a happy union. Childhood measles left him squint-eyed the rest of his
life. When he was twelve he was sent to the St. Mary de Crypt Grammar School
There he had a record of truancy but also a reputation as an actor and
15 years of age George persuaded his mother to let him leave school because
he would never make much use of his education -- so he thought! He spent time
working in the inn.
the back of his mind was a desire to preach. At night George sat up and read
the Bible. Mother was visited by an Oxford student
who worked his way through college and this report encouraged both mother and
George to plan for college.
returned to grammar school to finish his preparation to enter Oxford, losing
about one year of school.
was 17 he entered PembrokeCollege
in November, 1732. He was gradually drawn from former sinful associates, and
after a year, he met John and Charles Wesley and joined the Holy Club.
Charles Wesley loaned him a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. This
book -- plus a severe sickness which resulted because of long and painful
periods of spiritual struggle -- finally resulted in his conversion. This was
in 1735. He said many years later:
I know the
place...Whenever I go to Oxford,
I cannot help running to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed him- self
to me, and gave me the new birth.
Many days and
weeks of fasting, and all the other tortures to which he had exposed himself
so undermined his health that he was never again a well man. Because of poor
health, he left school in May, 1735, and returned home for nine months of
recuperation. However, he was far from idle, and his activity attracted the
attention of Dr. Benson, who was the bishop of Gloucester. He
announced he would gladly ordain Whitefield as a deacon. Whitefield returned
in March of 1736 and on June
20, 1736, Bishop Benson ordained him. He
placed his hands upon his head -- whereupon George later declared, "My
heart was melted down, and I offered my whole spirit, soul and body to the
service of God's sanctuary."
preached his first sermon the following Sunday. It was at the ancient Church
of Saint Mary de Crypt, the church where he had been "baptized" and
grown up as a boy. People, including his mother, flocked to hear him. He
described it later:
few mocked, but most for the present, seemed struck, and I have since heard
that a complaint was made to the bishop, that I drove fifteen people mad, the
18,000 sermons were to follow in his lifetime, an average of 500 a year, or ten
a week. Many of them were given over and over again. Less than 90 of them
have survived in any form.
Wednesday following his first sermon, he returned to Oxford where the
B.A. degree was conferred upon him. Then he was called to London to act as
a supply minister at the Tower
He stayed only a couple of months, and then returned to Oxford for a
very short time, helping a friend in a rural parish for a few weeks. He also
spent much time amongst the prisoners at Oxford during
brothers had gone to Georgia
and Whitefield got letters from them urging him to come there. He felt called
to go, but the Lord delayed the trip for a year, during which time he began
to preach with power to great crowds throughout England. He preached in some
of the principal churches of London and soon no church was large enough to
hold those who came to hear him.
left for America
on January 10, and on February
2, 1738, sailed from Gibraltar,
although he had left England
in December. The boat was delayed a couple of places, but Whitefield used the
extra time preaching. He arrived in America on May 7, 1738. Shortly after
arrival he had a severe bout with fever. Upon recovering he visited
Tomo-Chici, an Indian chief who was on his death bed. With no interpreter
available, Whitefield could only offer a prayer in his behalf.
He loved Georgia and was
not discouraged there as were the Wesleys. He was burdened about orphans, and
started to collect funds for the same. He opened schools in Highgate and
Hampstead, and also a school for girls in Savannah. Of course he also
preached. On September 9, 1738, he left Charleston, South Carolina, for the
trip back to London. It was a perilous voyage.
For two weeks a bad storm beat the boat. About one-third of the way home,
they met a ship from Jamaica which had ample supplies to restock the
dwindling food and water cargo on their boat. After nine weeks of tossing to
and fro they found themselves in the harbor of Limerick, Ireland, and in
London in December.
On Sunday, January 14, 1739,
George Whitefield was ordained as a priest in the Church of England by his
friend, Bishop Benson, in an Oxford
ceremony. Upon his return to London,
he thought that the doors would be opened and that he would be warmly
received. Instead it was the opposite. Now many churches were closed to him.
His successes, preaching, and connection with Methodist societies -- in
particular his association with the Wesleys -- were all opposed by the
he preached to as many churches as would receive him, working and visiting
with such as the Moravians and other non-conformist religious societies in London. However,
these buildings were becoming too small to hold the crowds.
plans had to be formulated.
Harris of Wales
was preaching in the fields. Whitefield wondered if he ought to try it too.
He concluded he was an outcast anyway, so why not try to reach people this
"new" way? He held a conference with the Wesleys and other Oxford
Methodists before going to Bristol
in February. Soon John Wesley would be forced to follow Whitefield's example.
outside the city of Bristol
was a coal mine district known as Kingswood Hill. Whitefield first preached
here in the open on February
17, 1739. The first time about 200 came to
hear him, but in a very short time he was preaching to 10,000 at once.
stood in the rain listening with the melodies of their singing being heard
two miles away.
One of his
favorite preaching places was just outside London, on a
great open tract known as Moorfields. He had no designated time for his
services, but whenever he began to preach, thousands came to hear -- whether
were fans, as evidenced by his oft-repeated testimony, "I was honored
with having stones, dirt, rotten eggs and pieces of dead cats thrown at
me." In the morning some 20,000 listened to him, and in the evening
some 35,000 gathered! Whitefield was only 25 years old. Crowds up to 80,000
at one time gathered there to hear him preach for an hour and a half.
seems to be nothing unusual in content about his printed sermons, but his oratory
put great life into them. He could paint word pictures with such breathless
vividness that crowds listening would stare through tear-filled eyes as he
spoke. Once, while describing an old man trembling toward the edge of a
precipice, Lord Chesterfield jumped to his feet and shouted as George walked
the man unknowingly toward the edge -- "He is gone." Another
time in Boston
he described a storm at sea.
many sailors in the crowd, and at the very height of the "tempest" which
Whitefield had painted an old salt jumped to his feet and shouted, "To
the lifeboats, men, to the lifeboats!" Often as many as 500 would
fall in the group and lay prostrate under the power of a single sermon. Many
people made demonstrations, and in several instances men who held out against
the Spirit's wooing dropped dead during his meetings. Audible cries of the
audience often interrupted the messages. People usually were saved right
during the progress of the service. The altar call as such was not utilized.
On August 1, 1739,
the Bishop of London denounced him -- nevertheless on August 14 he was on his
way to his second trip to America, taking
with him about $4,000 which he had raised for his orphanage. This time he
landed near Philadelphia
on October 30, preaching here before going south. The old courthouse had a
balcony, and Whitefield loved to preach from it whenever he came here. People
stood in the streets all around to listen to him. When preaching on Society
Hill near Philadelphia
he spoke to 6,000 in the morning and 8,000 in the evening. On the following
Sunday the respective crowds were 10,000 to 25,000. At a farewell address,
more than 35,000 gathered to hear him. Benjamin Franklin became a good friend
of the evangelist, and he was always impressed with the preaching although
not converted. Once Franklin
emptied his pockets at home, knowing that an offering would be taken. But it
was to no avail. So powerful was the appeal at Whitefield's meeting that Franklin ended up
borrowing money from a stranger sitting nearby to put in the plate!
Whitefield went to New York.
Again the people thronged to hear him by the thousands. He preached to 8,000
in the field, on Sunday morning to 15,000, and Sunday afternoon to 20,000. He
returned again and again to these cities.
short stay here, he was eager to reach Georgia. He went
by land with at least 1,000 people accompanying him from Philadelphia to Chester. Here he
preached to thousands with even the judges postponing their business until
his sermon was over. He preached at various places, journeying through Maryland and
ending up at Charleston,
He finally ended up in Savannah
10, 1740, going by canoe from Charleston. His
first order of business was to get an orphanage started. He rented a large
house for a temporary habitation for the homeless waifs, and on March 25, 1740,
he laid the first brick of the main building, which he named Bethesda, meaning
"house of mercy."
under control in the South, he sailed up to New
England in September, 1740, for his first
of three trips to that area. He arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, to
commence what historians call the focal point of "the first great
awakening." Jonathan Edwards had been sowing the seed throughout the
area -- and Whitefield's presence was the straw that was to break the devil's
back. He preached in Boston
to the greatest crowds ever assembled there to hear the gospel. Some 8,000
assembled in the morning and some 15,000 returned to the famous Commons in
the evening. At OldNorthChurch
thousands were turned away, so he took his message outside to them. Later,
Governor Belcher drove him to the Commons where 20,000 were waiting to hear
him. He was invited more than once to speak to the faculty and students of
Harvard. At Salem,
hundreds could not get into the building where he spoke.
preached four times for Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts (October
17-20), and, though he stayed in New England less than a month that time, the
revival that was started lasted for a year and a half. He left January 24, 1741,
and returned to EnglandMarch 14,
1741. There he found that John Wesley was
diverging from Calvinist doctrine, so he withdrew from the Wesley Connexion
which he had embraced. Thereupon, his friends built him a wooden church named
the Moorfields Tabernacle. A reconciliation was later made between the two
evangelists, but they both went their separate ways from then on.
Whitefield was considered the unofficial leader of Calvinistic Methodism.
details are available following his break with Wesley. They begin with his
first of fourteen trips to ScotlandJuly 30, 1741.
This trip was sponsored by the Seceders, but he refused to limit his
ministrations to this one sect who had invited him -- so he broke with them.
Continuing his tour, he was received everywhere with enthusiasm. In Glasgow many were
brought under deep conviction. The largest audience he ever addressed was at
Cambuslang, near Glasgow,
where he spoke to an estimated 100,000 people! He preached for an hour and a
half to the tearful crowd. Converts from that one meeting numbered nearly
10,000. Once he preached to 30,000; another day he had five services of
20,000. Then he went on to Edinburgh
where he preached to 20,000. In traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh he
preached to 10,000 souls every day. He loved it so much he cried out,
"May I die preaching," which, in essence, he did.
went on to Wales,
where he was to make frequent trips in the future, and was received with
great respect and honor. Here he met his wife to be, Elizabeth James, an
older widow. They were married there on November 14, 1741, and on October 4,
1743, one son was born, named John, who died at age four months, the
In 1742 a
second trip was made to Scotland. During the first two visits here Scotland
was spiritually awakened and set "on fire" as she had not been
since the days of John Knox. Subsequent visits did not evidence the great
revivals of the early trips, but these were always refreshing times for the
people. Then a tour through England and Wales was made from 1742 to 1744. It
was in 1743 that he began as moderator for the Calvinistic Methodists in
Wales, which position he held a number of years.
George Whitefield almost became a martyr. He was attacked by a man uttering
abusive language, who called him a dog, villain, and so forth, and then
proceeded to beat him unmercifully with a gold-headed cane until he was
almost unconscious. About this time, he was also accused of misappropriating
funds which he had collected. Nothing could be further from the truth.
once he had to sell what earthly possessions he had in order to pay a certain
debt that he had incurred for his orphanage, and to give his aged mother the
things she needed. Friends had loaned him the furniture that he needed when
he lived in England. When he died he was a pauper with only a few personal
possessions being the extent of his material gain.
trip was made to America from 1744 to 1748. On his way home because of ill
health, he visited the Bermudas. It was a pleasant trip. On the trip he
preached regularly and saw many souls won to the Lord. It was in 1748 that he
said, "Let thename of Whitefield die so that the cause of
Christ may live." A fourth trip to America was made October 27,
1751, to May,
return to England he was appointed one of the chaplains to Selina, Countess
of Huntingdon -- known as Lady Huntingdon, a friend since 1748. His mother
died at 71 in December of 1751. In 1753 he compiled "Hymns for Social
Worship." This was also the year he traveled 800 miles on horseback,
preaching to 100,000 souls. It was during this time that he was struck on the
head by stones and knocked off a table upon which he had been preaching.
Afterwards he said, "We areimmortal till our work is
done," a phrase he would often repeat.
Whitefield embarked again for America, with 22 orphans. En route he visited
Lisbon, Portugal, and spent four weeks there. In Boston thousands awakened
for his preaching at 7 a.m. One auditorium seating 4,000 saw great numbers
turned away while Whitefield, himself, had to be helped in through a window.
He stayed from May, 1754, to May, 1755.
In 1756 he
was in Ireland. He made only two, possibly three, trips here. On this
occasion, at age 42, he almost met death.
afternoon while preaching on a beautiful green near Dublin, stones and dirt
were hurled at him. Afterwards a mob gathered, intending to take his life.
Those attending to him fled, and he was left to walk nearly a half a mile
alone, while rioters threw great showers of stones upon him from every
direction until he was covered with blood. He staggered to the door of a
minister living close by. Later he said, "I received many blows and
wounds; one was particularly large near my temples." He later said
that in Ireland he had been elevated to the rank of an Apostle in having had
the honor of being stoned.
1756 he opened the Congregational Chapel bearing his name on Tottenham Court
Road, London. He ministered here and at the before-mentioned Moorsfield
Tabernacle often. A sixth trip was made to America from 1763 to 1765.
In 1768 he
made his last trip to Scotland,
27 years after his first. He was forced to conclude, "I am here only
in danger of being hugged to death." He visited Holland, where he
sought help for his body, where his health did improve. It is also recorded
that he once visited Spain.
His wife died on August
9, 1768, and Whitefield preached the
funeral sermon, using Romans 8:28 as a text. He dedicated the famous
Tottenham Court Road Chapel on July
On September 4, 1769,
he started on his last voyage to America, arriving
November 30. He went on business to make arrangements for his orphanage to be
converted into BethesdaCollege.
He spent the winter months of 1769-70 in Georgia, then
with the coming of spring he started north. He arrived in Philadelphia in May,
traveling on to New England.
Never was he so warmly received as now. The crowds flocked in great numbers
to see him. July was spent preaching in New York and Albany and
places en route. In August he reached Boston. For
three days in September he was too ill to preach, but as soon as he could be
out of bed he was back preaching. His last written letter was dated September 23, 1770.
He told how he could not preach, although thousands were waiting to hear.
September 29, he went from Portsmouth,
He preached en route in the open at Exeter, New Hampshire. Looking
up he prayed, "Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy
work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once
more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home and die."
given strength for this, his last sermon. The subject was Faith and Works.
Although scarcely able to stand when he first came before the group, he
preached for two hours to a crowd that no building then could have held.
at the parsonage of the First Presbyterian Church in Newburyport -- which church
he had helped to found -- he had supper with his friend, Rev. Jonathan
Parsons. He intended to go at once to bed. However, having heard of his
arrival, a great number of friends gathered at the parsonage and begged him
for just a short message. He paused a moment on the stairs,
candle in hand, and spoke to the people as they stood listening -- until the
candle went out. At ,
painting to breathe, he told his traveling companion Richard Smith, "My
asthma is returning; I must have two or three days' rest." His last
words were, "I am dying," and at on Sunday
morning he died -- September
funeral was held on October 2 at the Old South First Presbyterian Church.
Thousands of people were unable to even get near the door of the church.
Whitefield had requested earlier to be buried beneath the pulpit if he died
in that vicinity, which was done. Memorial services were held for him in many
has the church suffered in the setting of that bright star which shone so
gloriously in our hemisphere. We have none left to succeed him; none of his
gifts; none anything like him in usefulness."