In today’s sermon, I relate a story about the great Methodist evangelist, George Whitefield (1714-1770). His preaching to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, on two continents, both in Europe (in particular, the British Isles) and the American colonies were unrivaled in his age. He was instrumental in the Great Awakening, preaching over 18,000 times in his lifetime; often every day, and twice on Sundays. As an itinerant preacher (meaning that he traveled from place to place) he would often preach in the open fields, particularly when many churches closed their doors to him. At that time, preaching out of doors was unheard of, particularly in the Anglican high church, for which Whitefield was a part of. Yet it was he who made the practice popular. In fact, Whitefield was the one to first encourage his good friend and contemporary, John Wesley to adopt the practice.
Whitefield received his education at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met John and Charles Wesley in their holy club meetings. Though they differed greatly theologically in terms of eternal security, perfectionism (Wesley’s belief that one could attain a sort of sinless perfection in this life), and the sovereignty of God in salvation, they remained good friends throughout their life.
Whitefield traveled from the colonies to Britain several times. He started an orphanage in the new colony of Georgia, and assisted in the beginnings of Dartmouth College (then a school to train Indians to be ministers to their people). He was friends with Benjamin Franklin (Whitefield’s publisher in America) throughout his life and regularly witnessed to him to no avail (Franklin remained a staunch deist). The good George Whitefield did and the souls saved under his preaching are incalculable. I commend his two-volume, 1,200 page biography by Arnold Dallimore. There’s also a condensed version.