Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On this date in 1739

On this date, January 10, in 1739, George Whitefield was ordained to the ministry in the Church of England. The Lord used Whitefield's powerful preaching to help spark colonial America's first Great Awakening.

His booming voice could be heard for miles. Benjamin Franklin, one of Whitefield's friends, once estimated that Whitefield, without any amplification, could be heard by more than 30,000 people.

Whitefield’s farewell sermon on Boston Common drew between 23,000 and 30,000 thousand people—more than Boston’s entire population. It was probably the largest crowd that had ever gathered in one place in America up to that time.

Whitefield often awoke at 4 a.m. before beginning to preach at 5 or 6 a.m. In one week he often preached a dozen times or more and spent forty or fifty hours in the pulpit. He traveled seven times to America, more than a dozen times to Scotland, and to Ireland, Bermuda, and Holland. In his lifetime, Whitefield preached at least 18,000 times. He addressed perhaps 10,000,000 hearers.

About 80 percent of all American colonists heard him preach at least once. Other than royalty, he was perhaps the only living person whose name would have been recognized by any colonial American. He preached at both Harvard and New Haven College (Yale). At Harvard it was reported that “The College is entirely changed. The students are full of God.”

He was honored and respected by Charles Wesley, William Cowper, and later, John Greenleaf Whittier, who described Whitefield as “That life of pure intent / That voice of warning yet eloquent, / Of one on the errands of angels sent.”

But Whitefield pushed himself so hard and preached with such intensity that after preaching he often had “a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quantity of blood.” He died in Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 30, 1770. He is buried underneath the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Newburyport, Massachusetts (pictured above).

Let us remember the sense of urgency with which this man took his calling and ordination as we reflect on our callings, whatever they may be, today.

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