Faithful Heroes: George Whitefield

George Whitefield was an English Anglican cleric and evangelist. He worked closely with the Wesley brothers {Johna nd Charles} and together the trio founded Methodism.

Whitefield was born on December 27, 1714 in Gloucester, England. He was the seventh and last child of Thomas and Elizabeth Edwards Whitefield, who were inn keepers.

From a young age, he had a passion and talent for acting in the theatre.

He attended Oxford as a servitor, one who acted as a servant to his fellow students in exchange for free tuition. He also joined the Holy Club at the University alongside the Wesley brothers.

While ill, he read The life of God in the Soul of Man, and committed his life to Christ. He became passionate about preaching his faith and was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Gloucester. A week later he preached his first sermon.

In 1738, he journeyed to the American Colonies and settled in Savannah, Georgia as a parish priest. He returned to England to raise money for an orphan house in Georgia and began to preach to large congregations.

He invited John Wesley to accompany him back to Georgia and to preach in the open air. He handed his entire ministry over to John Wesley and formed the first Methodist conference. Soon after he relinquished his position as president to concentrate on his evangelical work.

In 1739, he returned to England to raise funds for the Bethesda Orphanage. Construction began on March 25, 1740 for the orphanage, but Whitefield insisted on sole control.

On his return to North American in 1740, he preached a series of revivals which became known as the Great Awakening of 1740. He preached daily to large crowd for months as he traveled throughout the colonies and New England. While in New England, he developed a lifelong friendship with Benjamin Franklin.

He had not been assigned a pulpit by the Church of England and preached in parks and fields, reaching out to the unchurched. To Whitefield “the gospel message was so critically important that he felt compelled to use all earthly means to get the word out.”

Whitefield spoke out against slavery and was one of the first to preach to slaves.

Whitefield often used his love of drama to act out Bible stories during his sermons.

On November 14, 1741 he married a widow, Elizabeth Gwynne James. She suffered four miscarriages, before giving birth to a son, who died at four months old. Upon their return to England in 1748, she never accompanied her husband on his travels.

Upon his return to England in 1742, a crowd which measured between 20-30 thousand people met him to bid farewell.

His wife, Elizabeth, died of a fever on August 9, 1768.

George Whitefield said “I would rather wear out than rust out.” His last sermon was preached in a field “atop a large barrel”. The next morning, September 30, 1770, he died in the parsonage of Old South Presbyterian Chruch in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was buried in a crypt under the pulpit of this church.

John Wesley preached his funeral sermon, upon Whitefield’s request.

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