George Whitefield, 1714-1770, English Evangelist
AUTHOR: Unknown
PUBLISHED ON: March 13, 2003
PUBLISHED IN: Biographies

George Whitefield
English evangelist. George Whitefield was born in Gloucester,
England, the son of a saloon operator. He was converted to
Christ in 1733 and shortly afterwards entered Oxford Univer-
sity, where he fellowshipped with the Wesley brothers, John
and Charles. His ministry began with his preaching in jails
to the prisoners and doing missionary work in the colony of
        In 1743 he parted company with the Wesleys on doc-
trine and adopted a moderate Calvinism as correct Bible doc-
trine. The thousands of converts during his ministry were a
result of his extensive preaching in Scotland, Wales, and
seven visits to America. His voice could be heard at a range
of one mile without amplification, while it is said that his
oratorical powers were such that he could make an audience
weep with his pronunciation.
        On a balcony not far from his deathbed, he preached
his last message to more than 2,000 people and died within an
hour after extending the invitation.

ARTIST’S NOTE: All the color scheme is relegated to depict
drama. This was the keynote of his ministry and approach to
the Gospel. The composition and contrasting colors emphasize
a powerful and disturbing message.

George Whitefield
BORN: December 16, 1714
Gloucester, England
DIED: September 30, 1770
Newburyport, Massachusetts
LIFE SPAN: 55 years, 9 months, 14 days
WHITEFIELD  WAS THE MOST TRAVELED preacher of the gospel  up
to  his time and many feel he was the greatest evangelist of
all  time.  Making 13 trips across the Atlantic Ocean was  a
feat in itself, for it was during a time when sea travel was
primitive.  This  meant he spent over two years of his  life
traveling  on water–782 days.  However,  his diligence  and
sacrifice  helped  turn two nations back  to  God.  Jonathan
Edwards  was  stirring things up in New  England,  and  John
Wesley  was doing the same in England.  Whitefield completed
the  trio of men humanly responsible for the great awakening
on  both sides of the Atlantic.  He spent about 24 years  of
ministry  in the British Isles and about nine more years  in
America, speaking to some ten million souls.
        It is said his voice could be heard a mile away, and
his  open-air  preaching reached as many as 100,000  in  one
gathering!  His  crowds were the greatest ever assembled  to
hear the preaching of the gospel before the days of amplifi-
cation–and,  if  we  might  add,  before  the  days  of
        He  was  born  in  the Bell Inn  where  his  father,
Thomas,  was a wine merchant and innkeeper.  The father died
when George was two.  George was the youngest of seven chil-
dren. His widowed mother,  Elizabeth (born in 1680),  strug-
gled to keep the family together. When the lad was about ten
his  mother  remarried,  but  it  was  not  a  happy  union.
Childhood measles left him squint-eyed the rest of his life.
When  he  was twelve he was sent to the St.  Mary  de  Crypt
Grammar School in Gloucester.  There he had a record of tru-
ancy but also a reputation as an actor and orator.
        At about 15 years of age George persuaded his mother
to let him leave school because he would never make much use
of  his education–so he thought!  He spent time working  in
the inn.
        Hidden  in  the  back of his mind was  a  desire  to
preach.  At  night George sat up and read the Bible.  Mother
was  visited by an Oxford student who worked his way through
college and this report encouraged both mother and George to
plan  for college.  He returned to grammar school to  finish
his  preparation to enter Oxford,  losing about one year  of
        When he was 17 he entered Pembroke College at Oxford
in November, 1732. He was gradually drawn from former sinful
associates, and after a year, he met John and Charles Wesley
and joined the Holy Club.  Charles Wesley loaned him a book,
The Life of God in the Soul of Man. This book–plus a severe
sickness  which resulted because of long and painful periods
of  spiritual struggle–finally resulted in his  conversion.
This was in 1735. He said many years later:

I  know the place…Whenever I go to Oxford,  I cannot  help
running  to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed  him-
self to me, and gave me the new birth.

        Many  days and weeks of fasting,  and all the  other
tortures  to which he had exposed himself so undermined  his
health  that he was never again a well man.  Because of poor
health, he left school in May,  1735,  and returned home for
nine months of recuperation. However,  he was far from idle,
and his activity attracted the attention of Dr. Benson,  who
was  the bishop of Gloucester.  He announced he would gladly
ordain Whitefield as a deacon. Whitefield returned to Oxford
in  March of 1736 and on June 20,  1736,  Bishop Benson  or-
dained  him.  He  placed his hands upon his  head–whereupon
George later declared, “My heart was melted down,  and I of-
fered my whole spirit, soul and body to the service of God’s
        Whitefield  preached his first sermon the  following
Sunday. It was at the ancient Church of Saint Mary de Crypt,
the  church where he had been “baptized”  and grown up as  a
boy. People, including his mother,  flocked to hear him.  He
described it later:

…Some few mocked, but most for the present, seemed struck,
and  I  have  since heard that a complaint was made  to  the
bishop, that I drove fifteen people mad, the first sermon.

More than 18,000 sermons were to follow in his lifetime,  an
average  of  500 a year,  or ten a week.  Many of them  were
given  over and over again.  Less than 90 of them have  sur-
vived in any form.
        The  Wednesday  following his first sermon,  he  re-
turned  to Oxford where the B.A.  degree was conferred  upon
him.  Then he was called to London to act as a supply minis-
ter  at  the  Tower of London.  He stayed only a  couple  of
months,  and  then returned to Oxford for a very short time,
helping a friend in a rural parish for a few weeks.  He also
spent  much time amongst the prisoners at Oxford during this
        The  Wesley brothers had gone to Georgia in America,
and  Whitefield  got  letters from them urging him  to  come
there.  He felt called to go,  but the Lord delayed the trip
for a year,  during which time he began to preach with power
to  great crowds throughout England.  He preached in some of
the  principal  churches  of London and soon no  church  was
large enough to hold those who came to hear him.
        He  finally left for America from England on January
10, and on February 2, 1738, sailed from Gibraltar, although
he had left England in December. The boat was delayed a cou-
ple of places, but Whitefield used the extra time preaching.
He arrived in America on May 7, 1738.  Shortly after arrival
he had a severe bout with fever.  Upon recovering he visited
Tomo-Chici,  an Indian chief who was on his death bed.  With
no  interpreter  available,  Whitefield could only  offer  a
prayer in his behalf.
        He  loved  Georgia and was not discouraged there  as
were the Wesleys. He was burdened about orphans, and started
to collect funds for the same. He opened schools in Highgate
and Hampstead,  and also a school for girls in Savannah.  Of
course  he  also preached.  On September 9,  1738,  he  left
Charleston, South Carolina, for the trip back to London.  It
was  a perilous voyage.  For two weeks a bad storm beat  the
boat. About one-third of the way home,  they met a ship from
Jamaica  which  had ample supplies to restock the  dwindling
food  and  water cargo on their boat.  After nine  weeks  of
tossing  to  and fro they found themselves in the harbor  of
Limerick, Ireland, and in London in December.
        On Sunday, January 14,  1739,  George Whitefield was
ordained as a priest in the Church of England by his friend,
Bishop Benson, in an Oxford ceremony.
        Upon his return to London, he thought that the doors
would  be  opened  and  that he would  be  warmly  received.
Instead  it was the opposite.  Now many churches were closed
to  him.  His  successes,  preaching,  and  connection  with
Methodist  societies–in particular his association with the
Wesleys–were all opposed by the establishment. However,  he
preached  to as many churches as would receive him,  working
and  visiting with such as the Moravians and other  non-con-
formist religious societies in London. However, these build-
ings were becoming too small to hold the crowds. Alternative
plans had to be formulated.
        Howell  Harris of Wales was preaching in the fields.
Whitefield wondered if he ought to try it too.  He concluded
he  was  an outcast anyway,  so why not try to reach  people
this  “new”  way?  He held a conference with the Wesleys and
other Oxford Methodists before going to Bristol in February.
Soon  John  Wesley  would be forced to  follow  Whitefield’s
        Just  outside  the city of Bristol was a  coal  mine
district known as Kingswood Hill.  Whitefield first preached
here in the open on February 17, 1739.  The first time about
200  came  to  hear him,  but in a very short  time  he  was
preaching  to 10,000 at once.  Often they stood in the  rain
listening with the melodies of their singing being heard two
miles away.
        One  of his favorite preaching places was just  out-
side London,  on a great open tract known as Moorfields.  He
had no designated time for his services, but whenever he be-
gan to preach, thousands came to hear–whether it was 6 a.m.
or  8 p.m.  Not all were fans,  as evidenced by his  oft-re-
peated testimony,  “I was honored with having stones,  dirt,
rotten  eggs and pieces of dead cats thrown at me.”  In  the
morning some 20,000 listened to him, and in the evening some
35,000 gathered! Whitefield was only 25 years old. Crowds up
to  80,000 at one time gathered there to hear him preach for
an hour and a half.
        There  seems to be nothing unusual in content  about
his  printed  sermons,  but his oratory put great life  into
them. He could paint word pictures with such breathless viv-
idness that crowds listening would stare through tear-filled
eyes  as he spoke.  Once,  while describing an old man trem-
bling  toward  the edge of a  precipice,  Lord  Chesterfield
jumped  to his feet and shouted as George walked the man un-
knowingly  toward  the edge–“He is gone.”  Another time  in
Boston he described a storm at sea.  There were many sailors
in the crowd, and at the very height of the “tempest”  which
Whitefield  had  painted an old salt jumped to his feet  and
shouted, “To the lifeboats, men, to the lifeboats!” Often as
many  as 500 would fall in the group and lay prostrate under
the  power of a single sermon.  Many people made  demonstra-
tions, and in several instances men who held out against the
Spirit’s  wooing dropped dead during his  meetings.  Audible
cries of the audience often interrupted the messages. People
usually were saved right during the progress of the service.
The altar call as such was not utilized.
        On  August 1,  1739,  the Bishop of London denounced
him–nevertheless on August 14 he was on his way to his sec-
ond  trip to America,  taking with him about $4,000 which he
had  raised  for  his orphanage.  This time he  landed  near
Philadelphia  on  October 30,  preaching here  before  going
south.  The  old  courthouse had a balcony,  and  Whitefield
loved to preach from it whenever he came here.  People stood
in  the streets all around to listen to him.  When preaching
on  Society Hill near Philadelphia he spoke to 6,000 in  the
morning  and 8,000 in the evening.  On the following  Sunday
the  respective crowds were 10,000 to 25,000.  At a farewell
address,  more  than 35,000 gathered to hear  him.  Benjamin
Franklin became a good friend of the evangelist,  and he was
always  impressed with the preaching although not converted.
Once  Franklin emptied his pockets at home,  knowing that an
offering would be taken. But it was to no avail. So powerful
was  the appeal at Whitefield’s meeting that Franklin  ended
up  borrowing money from a stranger sitting nearby to put in
the plate!
        From Philadelphia Whitefield went to New York. Again
the  people  thronged  to  hear him  by  the  thousands.  He
preached to 8,000 in the field, on Sunday morning to 15,000,
and Sunday afternoon to 20,000.  He returned again and again
to these cities.
        After  a  short  stay here,  he was eager  to  reach
Georgia. He went by land with at least 1,000 people accompa-
nying him from Philadelphia to Chester.  Here he preached to
thousands with even the judges postponing their business un-
til  his  sermon was over.  He preached at  various  places,
journeying  through  Maryland and ending up  at  Charleston,
South  Carolina.  He finally ended up in Savannah on January
10, 1740, going by canoe from Charleston. His first order of
business was to get an orphanage started.  He rented a large
house for a temporary habitation for the homeless waifs, and
on  March  25,  1740,  he laid the first brick of  the  main
building, which he named Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy.”
        With things under control in the South, he sailed up
to  New England in September,  1740,  for his first of three
trips to that area. He arrived at Newport, Rhode Island,  to
commence  what historians call the focal point of “the first
great awakening.”  Jonathan Edwards had been sowing the seed
throughout the area–and Whitefield’s presence was the straw
that was to break the devil’s back. He preached in Boston to
the greatest crowds ever assembled there to hear the gospel.
Some 8,000 assembled in the morning and some 15,000 returned
to  the famous Commons in the evening.  At Old North  Church
thousands  were turned away,  so he took his message outside
to  them.  Later,  Governor Belcher drove him to the Commons
where  20,000 were waiting to hear him.  He was invited more
than  once to speak to the faculty and students of  Harvard.
At Salem,  hundreds could not get into the building where he
        He  then  preached  four  times  for  Edwards  in
Northampton, Massachusetts (October 17-20),  and,  though he
stayed  in New England less than a month that time,  the re-
vival that was started lasted for a year and a half. He left
January 24,  1741,  and returned to England March 14,  1741.
There he found that John Wesley was diverging from Calvinist
doctrine,  so he withdrew from the Wesley Connexion which he
had  embraced.  Thereupon,  his  friends built him a  wooden
church named the Moorfields Tabernacle. A reconciliation was
later  made between the two evangelists,  but they both went
their  separate ways from then on.  Thenceforth,  Whitefield
was  considered  the  unofficial  leader  of  Calvinistic
        Unique  details  are available following  his  break
with Wesley.  They begin with his first of fourteen trips to
Scotland  July  30,  1741.  This trip was sponsored  by  the
Seceders,  but he refused to limit his ministrations to this
one  sect  who  had  invited him–so  he  broke  with  them.
Continuing his tour,  he was received everywhere with enthu-
siasm.  In  Glasgow many were brought under deep conviction.
The  largest  audience he ever addressed was at  Cambuslang,
near Glasgow, where he spoke to an estimated 100,000 people!
He  preached  for an hour and a half to the  tearful  crowd.
Converts from that one meeting numbered nearly 10,000.  Once
he  preached to 30,000;  another day he had five services of
20,000.  Then  he went on to Edinburgh where he preached  to
20,000.  In  traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh he preached
to 10,000 souls every day. He loved it so much he cried out,
“May I die preaching,” which, in essence, he did.
        Then he went on to Wales,  where he was to make fre-
quent  trips in the future,  and was received with great re-
spect  and  honor.  Here he met his wife  to  be,  Elizabeth
James,  an older widow.  They were married there on November
14, 1741, and on October 4,  1743,  one son was born,  named
John, who died at age four months, the following February.
        In  1742 a second trip was made to Scotland.  During
the  first two visits here Scotland was spiritually awakened
and set “on fire” as she had not been since the days of John
Knox.  Subsequent visits did not evidence the great revivals
of  the early trips,  but these were always refreshing times
for  the people.  Then a tour through England and Wales  was
made from 1742 to 1744. It was in 1743 that he began as mod-
erator for the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales,  which posi-
tion he held a number of years.
        In 1744 George Whitefield almost became a martyr. He
was attacked by a man uttering abusive language,  who called
him a dog, villain, and so forth, and then proceeded to beat
him unmercifully with a gold-headed cane until he was almost
unconscious. About this time,  he was also accused of misap-
propriating  funds which he had collected.  Nothing could be
further from the truth.
        At  least  once he had to sell what earthly  posses-
sions  he had in order to pay a certain debt that he had in-
curred  for his orphanage,  and to give his aged mother  the
things she needed. Friends had loaned him the furniture that
he  needed when he lived in England.  When he died he was  a
pauper with only a few personal possessions being the extent
of his material gain.
        Another  trip was made to America from 1744 to 1748.
On  his  way  home because of ill  health,  he  visited  the
Bermudas.  It  was a pleasant trip.  On the trip he preached
regularly and saw many souls won to the Lord. It was in 1748
that  he said,  “Let the name of Whitefield die so that  the
cause of Christ may live.” A fourth trip to America was made
October 27, 1751, to May, 1752.
        Upon  his return to England he was appointed one  of
the  chaplains to Selina,  Countess of Huntingdon–known  as
Lady Huntingdon, a friend since 1748.  His mother died at 71
in  December of 1751.  In 1753 he compiled “Hymns for Social
Worship.”  This  was also the year he traveled 800 miles  on
horseback,  preaching  to 100,000 souls.  It was during this
time  that  he was struck on the head by stones and  knocked
off a table upon which he had been preaching.  Afterwards he
said,  “We are immortal till our work is done,”  a phrase he
would often repeat.
        In 1754 Whitefield embarked again for America,  with
22 orphans. En route he visited Lisbon, Portugal,  and spent
four  weeks  there.  In  Boston thousands awakened  for  his
preaching  at 7 a.m.  One auditorium seating 4,000 saw great
numbers  turned away while Whitefield,  himself,  had to  be
helped  in through a window.  He stayed from May,  1754,  to
May, 1755.
        In 1756 he was in Ireland. He made only two,  possi-
bly three, trips here. On this occasion,  at age 42,  he al-
most  met death.  One Sunday afternoon while preaching on  a
beautiful green near Dublin,  stones and dirt were hurled at
him. Afterwards a mob gathered,  intending to take his life.
Those attending to him fled,  and he was left to walk nearly
a  half a mile alone,  while rioters threw great showers  of
stones  upon  him from every direction until he was  covered
with  blood.  He staggered to the door of a minister  living
close by. Later he said,  “I received many blows and wounds;
one  was particularly large near my temples.”  He later said
that  in  Ireland  he had been elevated to the  rank  of  an
Apostle in having had the honor of being stoned.
        Also  in  1756 he opened the  Congregational  Chapel
bearing his name on Tottenham Court Road, London.  He minis-
tered here and at the before-mentioned Moorsfield Tabernacle
often. A sixth trip was made to America from 1763 to 1765.
        In 1768 he made his last trip to Scotland,  27 years
after his first. He was forced to conclude,  “I am here only
in  danger  of being hugged to death.”  He visited  Holland,
where he sought help for his body,  where his health did im-
prove.  It is also recorded that he once visited Spain.  His
wife died on August 9, 1768, and Whitefield preached the fu-
neral sermon, using Romans 8:28 as a text.  He dedicated the
famous Tottenham Court Road Chapel on July 23, 1769.
        On September 4, 1769,  he started on his last voyage
to  America,  arriving November 30.  He went on business  to
make  arrangements  for his orphanage to be  converted  into
Bethesda  College.  He spent the winter months of 1769-70 in
Georgia, then with the coming of spring he started north. He
arrived in Philadelphia in May, traveling on to New England.
Never  was he so warmly received as now.  The crowds flocked
in great numbers to see him. July was spent preaching in New
York  and Albany and places en route.  In August he  reached
Boston.  For  three  days  in September he was  too  ill  to
preach,  but  as soon as he could be out of bed he was  back
preaching.  His  last written letter was dated September 23,
1770.  He  told how he could not preach,  although thousands
were waiting to hear.
        On  September  29,  he  went  from  Portsmouth,  New
Hampshire,  to  Newburyport,  Massachusetts.  He preached en
route  in the open at Exeter,  New Hampshire.  Looking up he

Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work.  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 was given strength for this, his last sermon. The
subject was Faith and Works. Although scarcely able to stand
when  he  first came before the group,  he preached for  two
hours to a crowd that no building then could have held.
        Arriving  at the parsonage of the First Presbyterian
Church in Newburyport–which church he had helped to found–
he had supper with his friend, Rev. Jonathan Parsons. He in-
tended  to go at once to bed.  However,  having heard of his
arrival, a great number of friends gathered at the parsonage
and begged him for just a short message.  He paused a moment
on  the stairs,  candle in hand,  and spoke to the people as
they stood listening–until the candle went out.  At 2 a.m.,
painting to breathe, he told his traveling companion Richard
Smith,  “My  asthma is returning;  I must have two or  three
days’  rest.”  His last words were,  “I am dying,”  and at 6
a.m. on Sunday morning he died–September 30, 1770.
        The  funeral was held on October 2 at the Old  South
First  Presbyterian Church.  Thousands of people were unable
to even get near the door of the church.  Whitefield had re-
quested  earlier to be buried beneath the pulpit if he  died
in  that vicinity,  which was done.  Memorial services  were
held for him in many places.
        John Wesley said:

Oh,  what  has  the church suffered in the setting  of  that
bright star which shone so gloriously in our hemisphere.  We
have  none  left to succeed him;  none of  his  gifts;  none
anything like him in usefulness.

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