Whitefield George

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died 30.9.1770

Born in Gloucester 1714, he was associated with the Wesleys and others in the ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford university where they were first dubbed ‘methodists’ and became an outstanding preacher during the revival. He was converted in 1735 and went to Georgia 1737 where he was involved in a variety of charitable and church works. He returned to England between 1738-9 to be ordained priest and discovered his talent for open-air evangelism and made contact with Howell Harris and the Welsh revival. He went back to Georgia, but in 1741 returned again to England embarking on a round of missionary tours covering enormous distances. He visited Scotland 14 times and participated in the Cambuslang revival. He travelled all over England and Wales becoming closely associated with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and visited America seven times.

Whitefield centred his theology on the old English Puritan themes of original sin, justification by faith and regeneration. Sometimes he was militantly Calvinist, but he preached with a rare passion for souls and a style that was dynamic and compelling. His physical bearing commanded attention and the range of his voice was astonishing.

With John Wesley’s conversion in 1738, John and his brother Charles became the other major instruments in the English revival with John becoming known as the Apostle of England. On 1 January 1739 a remarkable meeting took place at Fetter Lane in London with the Wesleys, Whitefield and Benjamin Ingham present. John Wesley records ‘…about three in the morning, as we were continuing in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice (in praise).” In England the revival was known as the Evangelical or Methodist Revival. The first meeting of the parent Methodist society was in 1739 in a disused cannon foundry, but from 1741 ‘Arminian Methodists’ followed Whitefield and ‘Calvinistic Methodists’ followed Wesley.

In the early 1700s the American churches had lost the evangelical enthusiasm of the pioneering colonists, commerce and wealth having bred materialism. In 1727 an earthquake which hit New England was interpreted as a sign of God’s judgment and there was a temporary rush to the churches and in the 1730s many were calling for and praying for revival. This began in Northampton in 1734 with Jonathan Edwards preaching on justification by faith and became known as ‘The Awakening,’ but didn’t reach its peak till 1740 when Whitefield arrived for his second American visit and set off on a six-week preaching tour. In Boston the crowds were so large that Whitefield once again took to the open air. He preached his farewell sermon to a crowd estimated at 20,000 and the revival continued with equal momentum for eighteen months.

One effect of Whitefield’s visits was to rouse the ministers “…the reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.” Missionary enterprise was stimulated in both America and England. Spiritual liberation paved the way for political liberation, and contributed indirectly to the American Revolution. Christianity expanded with the American frontier ensuring that the nation would rest on a reliable foundation. In England the revival ultimately led to prison reform, dispensaries for the sick, the creation of jobs by the setting up of manufacturing workshops, accommodation for widows and orphans, agencies for the poor, the abolition of slavery, and the great missionary societies towards the end of the century – the BaptistMissionary Society (1792), the London Missionary Society (1795) and the Church Missionary Society (1799). So many others were involved in these events e.g. Grenville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce in the fight to abolish slavery.

Source: Lion History of Christianity

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