George Whitefield

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The Great Awakening took place in the mid-1700s, a time when people were confused and sought for answers. Many people found these answers through captivating preachers including Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield, who was the most influential. Although George Whitefield did not start The Great Awakening, he contributed the most to it because he converted several thousands of people to join different churches and he spoke moving sermons that captured audiences throughout Europe and New England colonies.

The Great Awakening began in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734 with inspiring speeches given by Jonathan Edwards. It started out as a series of sermons by Edwards, on the subject of “Justification by Faith… proving that ‘every mouth shall be stopped’ at the day of judgment, and that ‘nothing, at any one moment, keeps wicked men out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God’” (Tracy 1). Edwards wrote a revival narrative identified as A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God which spread throughout Britain and the American Colonies and became the “prototype for a new genre of religious writing” (Brown 21).

Soon after Edward’s Faithful Narrative began to wear off, a young preacher, George Whitefield, crossed the Atlantic. In 1739, he went to Philadelphia, and soon thereafter made a “sweeping preaching tour” of New England (Brown 22). Edwards, in Northampton, wrote, “the congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon” (qtd. in Brown 22). Whitefield connected with other Anglican clergymen, primarily John and Charles Wesley. While trying to reorganize the Church of England, they formed the Methodist church. Although many preachers and clergymen at this time brought more people to church, Whitefield was the most affecting and successful.

George Whitefield was born on December 16, 1714 in Gloucester, England. At age fifteen, Whitefield convinced his mother to let him stay home and help with the inn, certain he would never use his education. Though busy in keeping charge of the inn, Whitefield found time to write sermons and often stayed up all night reading the Bible. At the age of eighteen he went to Pembroke College at Oxford. There, he was active in a group called the “Holy Club” at which he met John and Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley loaned him a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which led him to his conversion to Calvinist. Whitefield did not compare himself with others, nor think that he was greater than anyone, but he did look forward to his career. When his friends supported him and advised him to receive ordination he “insisted on more time for preparation. He intended to have a hundred sermons carefully written before beginning to preach” (Tracy 44). Finally, he was ordained on Sunday, June 20, 1736. One week later, he gave his first sermon in Gloucester, England on the subject of The necessity and Benefit of Religious Society. Whitefield reports, “… Some 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 first sermon” (qtd. in Belcher 38). Although a humble man, George Whitefield enlightened numerous amounts of people beginning with his first sermon.

In Whitefield’s lifetime he gave over eighteen thousand sermons, many of which brought people to tears, including Jonathan Edwards. “He poured them forth in a voice of wonderful flexibility, compass and power, and accompanied with the most graceful, impressive and appropriate action” (Tracy 45). Whitefield was talented enough that the people would pay him £ 10 instead of the usual ten shillings. “’The whole city,’ [Whitefield] wrote, ‘seems to be alarmed. Churches are as full on week days as they used to be on Sundays, and on Sundays so full that many, very many, are obliged to go away because they cannot get in.’” (Tracy 46). He preached nine times a week and even in the largest chapels thousands went away, unable to enter. Whitefield did not only preach in colonial America. He traveled across the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times, and among those included “England at least once a year; [he] visited Wales repeatedly, Ireland twice, and Scotland fourteen times” (Newell 214). Probably no man preached as much as Whitefield did, especially at the quality and level of charisma he offered.

From his childhood to the day he died, Whitefield was devoted to learning and speaking of religion. He made it clear that religion was important in people’s everyday lives. Through many sermons and fascinating skill, Whitefield contributed the most to the Great Awakening. As an influential speaker in the 1700s, he accomplished much more than any other preacher and converted a large amount of people. Even when worn out, his last efforts were amongst his most successful. George Whitefield’s passion and success led him a good life, and a valuable one to others.

Works CitedBrown, Lisa Thurston. “Perspectives of Pro-Revivalism: The Christian History and the Great Awakening.” BYU Library. Apr 2004. Department of History Brigham Young University, Web. 4 Oct 2009.

Newell, D. The life of Rev. George Whitefield.. New York: D. Newell, [c1846]. Print.

Hone, Nathaniel. The Reverend Mr. George Whitefield. 1769. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Accessed 4 Oct 2009. Philip, Robert. The life and times of the Reverend George Whitefield. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1838. Print.

Tracy, Joseph. The great awakening : a history of the revival of religion in the time of Edwards and Whitefield.. Boston: Tappan & Dennet, 1842. Print.