“You must be born again.” John 3:3
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was eleven years younger than Jonathan Edwards and was born in England, but God would use him in the American colonies to bring the spark Edwards had lit to a raging spiritual fire that would wake up souls everywhere he preached.
While reading a book lent to him in college called, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” Whitefield became convinced that it wasn’t religious works that made one right with God; you needed to be born again. He wrote, “A ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in my soul, and from that moment did I know that I must be a new creature.” (George Whitefield’s Journals, pg. 47)
From that time on crowds were drawn to Whitefield’s preaching and the message that we must be born again. In 1738 he made the first of seven trips to America and started an orphanage near Savannah, Georgia. When he returned to England to raise money for his orphans, crowds were waiting to hear him preach. Although he was ordained as an Anglican minister no one offered him a pulpit, so he began preaching in the fields. Thousands came to hear him in the open air in Bristol and coal miners wept as they were converted to Christ.
When he returned to America in 1740, the reports of his popularity in England preceded his arrival in Philadelphia, so crowds quickly gathered to hear him. He preached every day for months to thousands gathered from New York City to Charleston, riding from city to city on horseback. When he was invited by Jonathan Edwards to visit Northampton, all heaven broke loose as people wailed, wept, fainted, and rejoiced as they experienced the manifestation of God’s presence during Whitefield’s preaching.
In 1740 Benjamin Franklin wrote these words about Philadelphia: “The alteration in the fact of religion here is altogether surprising. Religion has become the subject of most conversations. No books are in request but those of piety and devotion; and instead of idle songs and ballads, the people everywhere are entertaining themselves with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Pennsylvania Gazette, June, 1740)
In 1770, the 55 year old Whitefield continued preaching in spite of poor health. He said, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” His last sermon was preached in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which is where he died. It is estimated that he preached over 18,000 sermons in his lifetime primarily in England, America, and Scotland.