George Whitefield was born to a Gloucester, England innkeeper’s family in December 1714. His father died when he was two, and George grew up helping keep the inn afloat. In his youth Whitefield was attracted to the theater; an interest that shaped his emotionally evocative preaching style later in life. He was able to attend Oxford University as a servitor, a student who received free tuition in exchange for serving the needs of wealthy students. During his time in college Whitefield read Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which threw him into spiritual crisis. After an extended period of anguish over the state of his soul, the twenty-one year old student embraced the saving forgiveness of God. In later years he would say, "I know the place.... Whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me and gave me the new birth."
Whitefield had received his copy of Scougal from John Wesley, whom he had met at Oxford. Along with his brother Charles, John had formed ‘the Holy Club’, a society of students desiring sincere devotion to Christ. A relationship was born in that college ministry between Whitefield and the Wesley’s that endured, though often tempestuously, for the remainder of the evangelist’s life.
|Whitefield in the fields|
There are great books that cover the breadth of Whitefield’s life an ministry. If you're interested in a brief bio, check out this 'preacher on preacher' video - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on George Whitfield
But here are some seemingly contradictory aspects of the man that I find fascinating.
- Whitefield was a ‘Free Gospel Calvinist’ – committed to the doctrine of election and unmerited favor but at the same time bold to call all his hearers to repentance and faith in Jesus.
- Whitefield was, sadly, an advocate of the institution of slavery in the Colonies, though at the same time he actively preached the Gospel to slaves, treating them as souls capable of trust in Christ, not as semi-human property, which is what most people in his time thought.
- Due to his influence Whitefield was always a controversial figure, but in private he did more to build bridges and heal divisions than any other prominent religious leader of his day.
|Me and my daughter Kelsey at the Whitefield|
statue at Penn
It might be said that over a 35 year ministry George Whitefield effectively preached himself to death. Sick with severe asthma and worn out from his labors, Whitefield’s last sermon was preached in Exeter, MA. When those near him urged that he decline the preaching opportunity, Whitefield offered this remarkable reply, “Lord, if I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for the once more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home and die.” He traveled that night to Newburyport, spoke briefly to a small crowed as he struggled to bed in the parsonage of the Old South Church. At around 6:00 am the next morning, September 30, 1770, Whitefield the preacher was silenced on this earth and Whitefield the eternal worshipper entered into his heavenly reward.
|The Old South parsonage at Newburyport, MA where |
Whitefield spent his last night
|George Whitefield's crypt in the cellar of Old South Church - |
for some reason there is a plaster cast of his skull on a Bible
on the slab.
On the Penn Campus statue is the following epitaph.
|Yours truly at the front of Old South Church|
Other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel.