Beginning in 1740, George Whitefield preached seven times in America, to crowds sometimes over 25,000. He spread the Great Awakening revival, which helped unite the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.
Ben Franklin wrote in his “Autobiography” that his voice could be heard almost a mile away: “He preached one evening from the top of the Court-house steps. … Streets were filled with his hearers. … I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard by retiring backwards down the street … and found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street.”
Ben Franklin continued his description of evangelist George Whitefield: “Multitudes of all denominations attended his sermons. … It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Sarah Edwards, the wife of Jonathan Edwards, wrote to her brother in New Haven concerning the effects George Whitefield’s ministry: “It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. … Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected.”
George Whitefield had attended Oxford with John and Charles Wesley, who began the Methodist movement. In 1733, when he was converted, George Whitefield exclaimed: “Joy – joy unspeakable – joy that’s full of, big with glory!”
When Whitefield confronted the established churches, doors were closed to him, so he resorted to preaching out-of-doors. Crowds grew so large that no church could hold the number of people. Ben Franklin helped finance the building of an auditorium in Philadelphia for Whitefield to preach in, which was latter donated as the first building of the University of Pennsylvania. A bronze statue of George Whitefield is on the university’s campus.
The Great Awakening revival resulted in the founding of Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Rutgers and Columbia Universities. Franklin printed Whitefield’s journal and sermons, which helped spread his popularity.
In one sermon, George Whitefield proclaimed: “Never rest until you can say, ‘the Lord our righteousness.’ Who knows but the Lord may have mercy, nay, abundantly pardon you? Beg of God to give you faith; and if the Lord give you that, you will by it receive Christ, with his righteousness, and his all. … None, none can tell, but those happy souls who have experienced it with what demonstration of the Spirit this conviction comes. …”
George Whitefield continued: “Oh, how amiable, as well as all sufficient, does the blessed Jesus now appear! With what new eyes does the soul now see the Lord its righteousness! Brethren, it is unutterable. … Those who live godly in Christ, may not so much be said to live, as Christ to live in them. … They are led by the Spirit as a child is led by the hand of its father. … They hear, know, and obey his voice. … Being born again in God they habitually live to, and daily walk with God.”
George Whitefield’s influence was so profound, that when there was a threatened war with Spain and France, Ben Franklin drafted and printed a general fast for Pennsylvania, Dec. 12, 1747: “As the calamities of a bloody War, in which our Nation is now engaged, seem every Year more nearly to approach us … there is just reason to fear that unless we humble ourselves before the Lord & amend our Ways, we may be chastised with yet heavier Judgments. We have, therefore, thought fit … to appoint … the seventh Day of January next, to be observed throughout this Province as a Day of Fasting & Prayer, exhorting all … to join with one accord in the most humble & fervent Supplications; That Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the Rage of War among the Nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian Blood. …”
In 1752, George Whitefield wrote to Benjamin Franklin, who had invented the lightning rod: “My Dear Doctor … I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world.”
In 1764, George Whitefield received a letter from Benjamin Franklin, in which Franklin ended with the salutation: “Your frequently repeated Wishes and Prayers for my Eternal as well as temporal Happiness are very obliging. I can only thank you for them, and offer you mine in return.”
In 1769, George Whitefield wrote Benjamin Franklin on the night before his last trip to America. In this last surviving letter, Whitefield shares his desire that both he and Franklin would: “Be in that happy number of those who is the midst of the tremendous final blaze shall cry Amen.”
Franklin wrote to George Whitefield: “I sometimes wish you and I were jointly employed by the Crown to settle a colony on the Ohio … a strong body of religious and industrious people! … Might it not greatly facilitate the introduction of pure religion among the heathen, if we could, by such a colony, show them a better sample of Christians than they commonly see in our Indian traders?”
George Whitefield died Sept. 30, 1770. As he was dying, he declared: “How willing I would ever live to preach Christ! But I die to be with Him!”
George Whitefield had declared: “Would you have peace with God? Away, then, to God through Jesus Christ, who has purchased peace; the Lord Jesus has shed his heart’s blood for this. He died for this; he rose again for this; he ascended into the highest heaven, and is now interceding at the right hand of God.”
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