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George Whitefield

Church of England preacher and evangelist and founder of Methodism
Born December 16, 1714 (1714-12-16)
Gloucester, England
Died September 30, 1770 (1770-10-01)
Newburyport, Massachusetts

George Whitefield (pronounced /ˈhwɪtfiːld/) (December 16, 1714 – September 30, 1770), also known as George Whitfield, was an Anglican itinerant minister who helped spread the Great Awakening in Great Britain and, especially, in the British North American colonies.


Early life

He was born at the Bell Inn, Southgate Street, Gloucester[1] in England. An influential figure in the establishment of Methodism, Whitefield was famous for his preaching in British North America, which was a significant factor in an 18th-century movement of Christian revivals there sometimes called "The Great Awakening."

Whitefield was the son of a widow who kept an inn at Gloucester. At an early age, he found that he had a passion and talent for acting in the theatre, a passion that he would carry on through the very theatrical re-enactments of Bible stories that he told during his sermons. He was educated at the Crypt School, Gloucester, and Pembroke College, Oxford. Because Whitefield came from a poor background, he did not have the means to pay for his tuition. He therefore entered Oxford as a servitor, the lowest rank of students at Oxford. In return for free tuition, he was assigned as a servant to a number of higher ranked students. His duties would include waking them in the morning, polishing their shoes, carrying their books and even assisting with required written assignments.[2] He was a part of the 'Holy Club' at Oxford University with the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. After reading Henry Scougal's The Life of God in the Soul of Man he became very religious. Following a religious conversion, he became very passionate for preaching his newfound faith. The Bishop of Gloucester ordained him before the canonical age.

Travels and evangelism

"Whitefield was a celebrity in his time and is considered by many to be the founder of the Evangelical movement."[3] Whitefield preached his first sermon in the Crypt Church in his home town of Gloucester a week after his ordination. He had earlier become the leader of the Holy Club at Oxford when the Wesley brothers departed for Georgia. He adopted the practice of Howell Harris of preaching in the open-air at Hanham Mount, near Kingswood, Bristol. In 1738, before going to America, where he became parish priest of Savannah, Georgia he invited John Wesley to preach in the open-air for the first time at Kingswood and then Blackheath, London. After a short stay in Georgia he returned home in the following year to receive priest's orders, resuming his open-air evangelistic activities.

Whitefield had cross-eyed (Strabismus) vision.

Whitefield accepted the Church of England Article on predestination but disagreed with the Wesley brothers views on slavery and of the doctrine of Arminianism. As a result the Wesley Brothers set-up their own religious movement. Whitefield formed and was the president of the first Methodist Conference. At an early date Whitefield decided to concentrate on evangelistic work and relinquished the position.

Three churches were established in England in his name: one in Bristol and two others, the "Moorfields Tabernacle" and the "Tottenham Court Road Chapel", in London. Later the society meeting at the second Kingswood School at Kingswood, a town on the eastern edge of Bristol, was also called Whitefield's Tabernacle. Whitefield acted as chaplain to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon and some of his followers joined the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, whose chapels were paid for at her sole expense and where a form of Calvinistic Methodism similar to Whitefield's could be spread. Many of these chapels were built in the English counties and Wales, and one was erected in London — the Spa Fields Chapel.

In 1739 Whitefield returned to England to raise funds to establish the Bethesda Orphanage, which is the oldest extant charity in North America. On returning to North America he preached a series of revivals that came to be known as the Great Awakening of 1740. He preached nearly every day for months to large crowds of sometimes several thousand people as he travelled throughout the colonies, especially New England. His journey on horseback from New York City to Charleston was the longest then undertaken in North America by a white man.

Like his contemporary and acquaintance, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield preached with a staunchly Calvinist theology that was in line with the "moderate Calvinism" of the Thirty-nine Articles.[4] While explicitly affirming God's sole agency in salvation, Whitefield would freely offer the Gospel, saying near the end of most of his published sermons something like: "Come poor, lost, undone sinner, come just as you are to Christ."[5]

Revival meetings

He first took to preaching in the open air on Hanham Mount, Kingswood, in southeast Bristol. A crowd of 20,000 people gathered to hear him. Even larger crowds—Whitefield estimated 30,000—met him in Cambuslang in 1742.

Whitefield preaching.

Benjamin Franklin once attended a revival meeting in Philadelphia and was greatly impressed with Whitefield's ability to deliver a message to such a large group. Franklin had dismissed reports of Whitefield preaching to crowds of the order of tens of thousands in England as exaggeration. When listening to Whitefield preaching from the Philadelphia court house, Franklin walked away towards his shop in Market Street until he could no longer hear Whitefield distinctly. He then estimated his distance from Whitefield and calculated the area of a semicircle centred on Whitefield. Allowing two square feet per person he realized that Whitefield really could be heard by tens of thousands of people in the open air.[6]

Whitefield is remembered as one of the first to preach to the enslaved. Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem in his memory after he died. In an age when crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a long and hazardous adventure, he visited America seven times, making 13 trans-Atlantic crossings in total. It is estimated that throughout his life, he preached more than 18,000 formal sermons, of which 78 have been published[7][8] In addition to his work in America and England, he made 15 journeys to Scotland, (most famously to the "Preaching Braes" of Cambuslang in 1742), two to Ireland, and one each to Bermuda, Gibraltar, and the Netherlands. He is considered to be one of the fathers of Evangelicalism. He was the best-known preacher in England and America in the 18th century, and because he travelled through all of the American colonies and drew great crowds and media coverage, he was one of the most widely recognized public figures in America before George Washington.

He died in the parsonage of Old South Presbyterian Church,[9] Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 30, 1770. He was buried, according to his wishes, in a crypt under the pulpit of this church.

Advocacy of slavery

In the early 18th century, slavery was outlawed in Georgia. In 1749, George Whitefield campaigned for its legalisation, claiming that the territory would never be prosperous unless farms were able to use slave labour[10]; through his efforts, it was re-legalised in 1751. Whitefield became a slave owner, using them to work at his Bethesda Orphanage; to help raise money for the orphanage; he also put slaves to work at a plantation called Providence. Whitefield was known to treat his slaves well; they were reputed to be devoted to him, and he was critical of the abuse and neglect of their slaves by other owners[11]. When Whitefield died, he bequeathed his slaves to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon[12].


Numerous sermons, public letters and journals were published during his lifetime. The journals were originally intended for private circulation but were surreptitiously published by Thomas Cooper. This led to James Hutton publishing a version with Whitefield's approval. Exuberant and "too apostolical" language resulted in great criticism. This led him to cease publishing his journals after 1741 (although he was preparing a journal in 1744-45 for publication, the Journal was published in 1938 and later biographies refer to a manuscript journal which was available to them). He published "A Short Account of God's Dealings with the Reverend George Whitefield" in 1740. This covered his life up to his ordination. In 1747 he published "A Further Account of God's Dealings with the Reverend George Whitefield" covering the period from his ordination to his first voyage to Georgia. In 1756 he published a heavily edited version of his Journals and autobiographical accounts. After his death John Gillies, a Glasgow friend, published a memoir and six volumes of works, comprising three volumes of letters, a volume of tracts and two volumes of sermons. A collection of sermons was published just before he left London for the last time in 1769. These were disowned by Whitefield and Gillies (who tried to buy all copies and pulp them). They had been taken down in shorthand, but Whitefield said that they made him say nonsense on occasion. These sermons were included in a nineteenth century volume Sermons on Important Subjects along with the "approved" sermons from the Works. An edition of the Journals, in one volume, was edited by William Wale in 1905. This edition was reprinted with additional material in 1960 by the Banner of Truth Trust.

See also


  1. ^ A Short Account of God's Dealings with the Reverend George Whitefield(1740)
  2. ^ see Dallimore
  3. ^ Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia, and Bonnie G. Smith. The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, Vol. C Since 1740. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008.
  4. ^ (Works, 3:383)
  5. ^ Borman, 73
  6. ^ The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Pages 163-164. Applewood Books, Bedford, MA, ISBN 978-1-55709-079-9
  7. ^
  8. ^ Sermons of George Whitefield that have never yet been reprinted
  9. ^ Old South Presbyterian Church
  10. ^ Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century (1980), Volume 2
  11. ^ Pollock, John, "George Whitefield: The Great Awakening", Published by Christian Focus, 2009, ISBN 1845504542, ISBN 978-1845504540
  12. ^ Edward J. Cashin, Beloved Bethesda : A History of George Whitefield's Home for Boys (2001)

Further reading

  • The Works of George Whitefield on CD-ROM. Weston Rhyn: Quinta Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1-897856-09-3
  • Whitefield, George, "Journals". London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960.ISBN 0-85151-147-3
  • Tyerman, Luke, The Life of the Reverend George Whitefield. Azle, Texas: Need of the Times Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0-9647552-0-3
  • Robert Philip, The Life and Times of George Whitefield. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust. 2007 reprint of 1837 edition. ISBN 978-0-85151-960-9
  • Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival. Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1970-1980.
  • E.A. Johnston, George Whitefield: A Definitive Biography" (2 vols). Tentmaker Publications, Stoke-on-Trent, England, 2007. ISBN 978-1-90167-076-9
  • Armstrong, John H. Five Great Evangelists. Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, G.B., 1997.
  • Bormann, Ernest G. Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.
  • Lambert, Frank. "Pedlar in divinity": George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737-1770. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-69103-296-3
  • Mahaffey, Jerome. Preaching Politics: The Religious Rhetoric of George Whitefield and the Founding of a New Nation. Baylor University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932792-88-1
  • Mansfield, Stephen. Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2001. ISBN 1-58182-165-4
  • Reisinger, Ernest. "What Should We Think Of Evangelism and Calvinism?", The Founder's Journal, Issue 19/20, Winter/Spring 1995.
  • Stout, Harry S. The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770), English religious leader, was born on the 16th of December 1714 at the Bell Inn, Gloucester, of which his father was landlord. At about twelve years of age he was sent to the school of St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester, where he developed some skill in elocution and a taste for reading plays, a circumstance which probably had considerable influence on his subsequent career. At the age of fifteen he was taken from school to assist his mother in the public-house, and for a year and a half was a common drawer. He then again returned to school to prepare for the university, and in 1733 entered as a servitor at Pembroke College, Oxford, graduating in 1736. There he came under the influence of the Methodists (see Wesley), and entered so enthusiastically into their practices and habits that he was attacked by a severe illness, which compelled him to return to his native town. His enthusiastic piety attracted the notice of Martin Benson, bishop of Gloucester, who ordained him deacon on the 10th of June 1736. He then began an evangelizing tour in Bath, Bristol and other towns, his eloquence at once attracting immense multitudes.

In 1736 he was invited by Wesley to go out as missionary to Georgia, and went to London to wait on the trustees. Before setting sail he preached in some of the principal London churches, and in order to hear him, crowds assembled at the church doors long before daybreak. On the 28th of December 1737 he embarked for Georgia, which he reached on the 7th of May 1738. After three months' residence there he returned to England to receive priest's orders, and to raise contributions for the establishment of an orphanage. As the clergy did not welcome him to their pulpits, he began to preach in the open air. At Kingswood Hill, Bristol, his addresses to the colliers soon attracted crowds, and his voice was so clear and powerful that it could reach 20,000 folk. His fervour and dramatic action held them spell-bound, and his homely pathos soon broke down all barriers of resistance. "The first discovery of their being affected," he says, "was by seeing the white gutters made by their tears, which plentifully fell down their black cheeks." In 1738 an account of Whitefield's voyage from Lcndon to Georgia was published without his knowledge. In 1739 he published his Journal from his arrival in Savannah to his return to London, and also his Journal from his arrival in London to his departure thence on his way to Georgia. As his embarkation was further delayed for ten weeks he published A Continuation of the Rev. Mr Whitefield's Journal during the Time he was delayed in England by the Embargo. His unfavourable reception in England by the clergy led him to make reprisals. To Joseph Trapp's attack on the Methodists he published in 1739 A Preservative against Unsettled Notions, in which the clergy of the Church of England were denounced with some bitterness; he also published shortly afterwards The Spirit and Doctrine and Lives of our Modern Clergy, and a reply to a pastoral letter of the bishop of London in which he had been attacked. In the same year appeared Sermons on Various Subjects (2 vols.), the Church Companion, or Sermons on Several Subjects, and a recommendatory epistle to the Life of Thomas Halyburton. He again embarked for America in August 1739, and remained there two years, preaching in all the principal towns. He left his incumbency of Savannah to a lay delegate and the commissary's court at Charleston suspended him for ceremonial irregularities. While there he published Three Letters from Mr Whitefield, in which he referred to the "mystery of iniquity" in Tillotson, and asserted that that divine knew no more of Christ than Mahomet did.

During his absence from England Whitefield found that a divergence of doctrine from Calvinism had been introduced by Wesley; and notwithstanding Wesley's exhortations to brotherly kindness and forbearance he withdrew from the Wesleyan connexion. Thereupon his friends built for him near Wesley's church a wooden structure, which was named the Moorfields Tabernacle. A reconciliation between the two great evangelists was soon effected, but each thenceforth went his own way. In 1741, on the invitation of Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, he paid a visit to Scotland, commencing his labours in the Secession meeting-house, Dunfermline. But, as he refused to limit his ministrations to one sect, the Seceders and he parted company, and without their countenance he made a tour through the principal towns of Scotland, the authorities of which in most instances presented him with the freedom of the burgh, in token of their estimate of the benefits to the community resulting from his preaching. From Scotland he went to Wales, where on the 14th of November he married a widow named James. The marriage was not a happy one. On his return to London in 1742 he preached to the crowds in Moorfields during the Whitsun holidays with such effect as to attract nearly all the people from the shows. After a second visit to Scotland, June - October 1742 (where at Cambuslang in particular he wielded a great spiritual influence), and a tour through England and Wales, 1 74 2 -1744, he embarked in August 1744 for America, where he remained till June 1748. On returning to London he found his congregation at the Tabernacle dispersed; and his circumstances were so depressed that he was obliged to sell his household furniture to pay his orphan-house debts. Relief soon came through his acquaintance with Selina, countess of Huntingdon, who appointed him one of her chaplains.

The remainder of Whitefield's life was spent chiefly in evangelizing tours in Great Britain, Ireland and America. It has been stated that "in the compass of a single week, and that for years, he spoke in general forty hours, and in very many sixty, and that to thousands." In 1748 the synods of Glasgow, Perth and Lothian passed vain resolutions intended to exclude him from churches; in 1753 he compiled his hymn-book, and in 1756 opened the chapel which still bears his name in Tottenham Court Road. On his return from America to England for the last time the change in his appearance forcibly impressed Wesley, who wrote in his Journal: " He seemed to be an old man, being fairly worn out in his Master's service, though he had hardly seen fifty years." When health was failing him he placed himself on what he called "short allowance," preaching only once every week-day and thrice on Sunday. In 1769 he returned to America for the seventh and last time, and arranged for the conversion of his orphanage into Bethesda College, which was burned down in 1 773 . He was now affected by a severe asthmatic complaint; but to those who advised him to take some rest, he answered, "I had rather wear out than rust out." He died on the 30th of September 1770 at Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he had arrived on the previous evening with the intention of preaching next day. In accordance with his own desire he was buried before the pulpit in the Presbyterian church of the town where he died.

Whitefield's printed works convey a totally inadequate idea of his oratorical powers, and are all in fact below mediocrity. They appeared in a collected form in 1771-1772 in seven volumes, the last containing Memoirs of his Life, by Dr John Gillies. His Letters (1734-1770) were comprised in vols. i., ii. and iii. of his Works and were also published separately. His Select Works, with a memoir by J. Smith, appeared in 1850. See Lives by Robert Philip (1837), L. Tyerman (2 vols., 1876-1877), J. P. Gledstone (1871, new ed. 1900), and W. H. Lecky's History of England, vol. ii.

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George Whitefield
File:George Whitefield by John
Church of England preacher and evangelist and co-founder of the Methodist movement
Born December 16, 1714
Gloucester, England
Died September 30, 1770
Newburyport, Massachusetts

George Whitefield (December 16, 1714 - September 30, 1770), was a preacher in the Church of England. He was one of the leaders of the Methodist movement.

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