Health & Freedom

An excerpt from the book: “GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE”

George Whitefield (1714–1770) was uniquely prepared for his role as the firebrand of the Great Awakening that would bring all the individual flames of revival together into one blazing inferno of Divine Awakening… At Oxford he had come under the tutelage of John and Charles Wesley and had experienced a dramatic conversion that forever changed his life. His gifted preaching ability drew great crowds and quickly launched him into leadership, along with the Wesleys, of the Methodist revival in England. Having eyes that were crossed, his critics poked fun at him calling him Dr. Squintum.

Sensing a Divine call to America, he departed England in August

of 1739 with a burden for the colonists and a prayer that they would

not live as thirteen scattered colonies, but as “one nation under

God.” As he travelled up and down the eastern seaboard, shop-

keepers closed their doors, farmers left their plows, and workers

threw down their tools to hurry to the place where he was to preach.

Crowds of 8-10 thousand were common. At a time when the

population of Boston was estimated at 25,000, Whitefield preached

to an estimated crowd of 30,000 on the Boston Common. Through

his incessant travels he became the best known and most

recognized figure in colonial America.


The Awakening Impacts all Segments of Society


Whitefield became a friend of Benjamin Franklin and stayed in his

home on at least one of his visits to America. Franklin’s testimony

of the power of the revival is particularly significant since he did

not profess to be a Christian. In his Autobiography, he tells of the

incredible change that came over his hometown of Philadelphia

when Whitefield came there on his first of seven visits to America.

He writes,


"In 1739 there arrived among us from Ireland the Reverend Mr.

Whitfield who made himself remarkable there as an itinerant

preacher. He was at first permitted to preach in some of our

churches, but the clergy, taking a dislike to him, soon refused

him their pulpits, and he was obliged to preach in the fields. The

multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons

were enormous, and it was a matter of speculation to me, who

was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of

his oratory on his hearers. From being thoughtless or indifferent

about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious

so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without

hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."


Franklin admits that he was skeptical of reports of Whitefield’s

preaching being heard by crowds of 25,000 and more. While

listening to Whitefield preach from the top of the Philadelphia

courthouse steps to a huge throng, Franklin, having an enquiring

and scientific mind, retired backward to see how far Whitefield’s

voice would reach. He then did some calculations and decided

that Whitefield’s voice, which he described as “loud and clear,”

could be heard by crowds of 30,000 and more.


The Awakening Touches All Sects & Denominations


Everywhere he went the Holy Spirit was poured out in great power.

On one occasion after preaching to a huge throng gathered outdoors,

Whitfield surveyed the crowd and noted the amazing response.

"Look where I would, most were drowned in tears. Some were

struck pale as death, others wringing their hands, others lying on

the ground, others sinking into the arms of their friends and most

lifting up their eyes to heaven and crying out to God." In Delaware

there was such an outpouring of God’s Spirit and grace that

Whitefield himself was overcome along with many of his audience.


Although a native of England, Whitefield became best known for

his ministry in America’s First Great Awakening. He loved America

and made seven visits to this land. A tireless worker, he travelled

incessantly from Georgia to Maine preaching primarily in the open

air and raising money for his beloved orphanage, Bethesda, which

he had founded in Georgia. He died during his final visit to America

at the age of 58, probably of congestive heart failure brought on

by fatigue.


The Significance of Whitfield’s Contribution


Whitfield’s contribution to the First Great Awakening was enormous.

More than any other person he, by his incessant travels, helped

make the Awakening a national event. It was the first time the

scattered colonists of various denominational and theological

persuasions had participated together in a single event.

Denominational walls were broken down and, for the first time,

they began to see themselves as a single people with one Divine

destiny—“one nation under God,” as Whitfield had prayed.


The preaching of Whitefield, Edwards, Frelinghuysen, the Tennents,

and others thus paved the way for nationhood. This is why Harvard

professor, William Perry, said, “The Declaration of Independence

of 1776 was a result of the evangelical preaching of the evangelists

of the Great Awakening.”


-From Chapter 5 of the book "GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE"

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