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.
"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
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"