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The Great Awakening

George Whitefield was born to innkeeper parents, in the town of Gloucester, England in the year 1714. He took on the job of tapster in the tavern at age 12, but reconsidered his choice and went back to school. Though he was a less than average student, he shone like a star in the drama department. This character trait would serve him well in the near future when re-enacting parts of the Bible would become one of his hallmark preaching styles.

Whitefield entered Pembroke College, Oxford at the age of thirteen. Because he was so poor, he entered college as a servitor. One of his duties was to act as minister to the higher ranking students. This would serve as great practice for his illustrious career soon to come.

While attending Oxford, George Whitefield became friends with John and Charles Wesley. They encouraged him to join the Holy Club, which focused on “methodical” prayer, fasting, and Christian living. Later, he would become the leader when John and Charles left for Georgia. It was at this time, as a result of a bout with illness, Whitefield underwent a religious conversion. He developed a burning passion to spread the word of his new found, more passionate faith.

 

Bathed in Prayer

At the age of 22, George Whitefield was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Gloucester. A week later he preached his first sermon in his hometown. Bathed in prayer beforehand, he enraptured his audience with his strong voice and even stronger emotions. He never let his lack of formal training in the discipline of theology stand in his way. In fact, he often scorned the more learned ministers, implying they were not preaching what the people really needed to hear – “Repent and be saved!”

Empowered by a strong faith life, George Whitefield truly preached from the heart. His off the cuff sermons, his re-enacting of Bible stories, his booming voice and open weeping sent his listeners into paroxysms of emotion. Even his crossed eyes (resulting from contracting measles in childhood), lent him an air of divinity. People believed he was able to keep one eye on Heaven while the other watched Hell. His prayerful, evangelical style of preaching led to his expulsion from most of the pulpits associated with the Church of England.

 

America and Jonathan Edwards

It was in 1738 that George Whitefield made the first of several trips to the American colonies. While in Georgia, he preached outdoors to the miners, and was the first to preach to the enslaved. He inspired people to take personal responsibility for their lives and made that good life seem a little more within reach. He rendered God a little kinder than his contemporary, Jonathan Edwards.

Beginning in 1740, George Whitefield brought into being The Great Awakening. People greeted him by the tens of thousands when he would come to preach. Making an unprecedented seven trips to America, George Whitefield was by far the most influential man of the time. His revivals were renown far and wide across the colonies. By the time his fame was receding, the practice of preaching outdoors so that everyone, churched or not, could take part in the glory, had become common practice.
George Whitefield died in 1745 after giving his last sermon, outdoors, in Boston.

 

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