The Great Awakening took place across two continents (America and Europe). There are a few names that come to mind with the Great Awakening; John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitfield are among them. When you read the account of Whitefield you are amazed at what he was able to accomplish with the limited technology of the time. It would seem impossible or supernatural. Harry Stout writes that “by 1750 virtually every American loved and admired Whitfield and saw him as their champion.” It has been said that by the time Whitfield died, 80% of the people in the American Colonies heard Whitefield in person at least once in their lifetime (this is before TV or radio)—fascinating! Eric Metaxes attributes to Whitefield the success of American Independence. He states that without the Great Awakening there would be no revival and no revolution. There would be no America as we know it. No one in church history has been able to rally people like George Whitfield and he was used by God for the sake of the gospel as a world changer.
George Whitefield was born 1714 in Gloucester England. His parents oversaw the Bell Inn and his father died when George was only two. At an early age, he was eloquent in speech. He learned New Testament Greek at the age of 16 and entered into Oxford as a servitor (someone who served the wealthier students) in exchange for free tuition. It was at Oxford where George met two instrumental brothers, Charles and John Wesley. At Oxford, he was part of a “Holy Club.” These were a group of students who practiced strong disciplines. They would wake up early and have lengthy devotion and took their time seriously. Yet at this moment George would acknowledge that he was not truly saved. It was not until he read The Life of God in the Soul of a Man by Henry Scougal that he realized he must be born again. This changed Whitefield; he was free to follow Christ and rest in the salvation that is found in Him.
He Was Steadfast in Preaching
Preaching was the main thing for Whitefield. He preached almost every day in his preaching career except for days he was sick. In his prime, he would teach up to 40 hours a week (that is talking in front of people, not including the time spent traveling). He has been recorded to have taught over 18,000 sermons and 12,000 talks and exhortations. He was a preaching machine! John Piper shares this remarkable statistic: during the thirty years of Whitefield’s ministry, he preached on average at least 1,000 times every year.
J.C. Ryle, in his biography of George Whitefield, says,
“From 1739 to the year of his death, 1770, a period of 31 years, his life was one uniform employment. He was eminently a man of one thing, and always about his Master’s business. From Sunday mornings to Saturday nights, from 1 January to 31 December, excepting when laid aside by illness, he was almost incessantly preaching Christ and going about the world entreating men to repent and come to Christ and be saved.”
Not only did Whitefield have an unrelenting preaching schedule but he would preach to large crowds usually. This was at a time when there were no microphones to magnify his voice. In the fall of 1740, during his New England tour, for over a month he preached almost every day to crowds of up to 8,000 people. It was recorded that the largest crowd that George Whitfield spoke to was 20,000.
Whitefield traveled all along the Eastern Seaboard as well as the length of England, in Scotland, and Ireland. (This was during a time when travel was done by horseback or horse-drawn carriage). He traveled the Atlantic 13 times, which, during the 18th century, was not easy. It would take up to eight to ten weeks.
Whitefield preached and preached, not because of the popularity. His motivation for preaching was that the lost would be saved. In his biography, he wrote, “The devils of hell can not stop us nor hurt us till we have finished our testimony.” He had one objective and that was preaching Christ crucified and risen again. What motivated him each day to teach over and over again was the gospel!
There is a conversation in Memoirs of Whitefield between Whitefield and an elderly gentleman on a night where he reached a town outside of Boston. He was going to pass through but the response from the town was so great to hear him preach that they built a platform in the field for him to preach from. The man said, “Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach.” Whitefield replied, “True, Sir” and then looking up he said, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not weary of it. 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.
He Cared for the Orphans
What brought George Whitefield to the American Colonies was the desire to be a missionary. He had his eyes on Georgia, which was founded by Colonel Oglethopre, who desired the colony to be a place for those released from debtor’s prison to be resettled and for those who had faced persecution to find refuge. George Whitefield boarded the Whitaker in 1737 to head to Georgia, where the Lord had a plan for him.
Georgie Whitefield had a desire to help the orphans and the poor in this colony and wanted to establish an orphanage. This would be his desire while he was traveling throughout the American Colonies and through his return trips to England to raise funds for the poor and the orphans of England.
The World Changer:
During a time when the Enlightment was taking shape, God used Whitefield as a mouthpiece of His grace. He did not just preach good tidings; he spoke truth and that man is a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. There was conviction in his words that would draw the listener to the Redeemer. His travel record is remarkable. His ability to preach relentlessly is one of amazement. The ability to teach to both young and old, rich and poor, shows his abilities as a communicator. But, George Whitefield is a world changer because he was changed by Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus had done for him, he lived his life to serve Jesus.