“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
On this day in 1738, a man in his early twenties wrote in his journal: “About Ten o’Clock there sprang up a pleasant fair Gale, which carried us from the Downsnear forty Miles that Day”. So it is that young George Whitefield set sail for his first trip to Georgia, keen to be missionary in the American colonies, He was a man who carried a zeal for Christ in his heart and a desire to share his Saviour with as many as he could. Having spent much of his youth practicing to be an actor, he could combine his zeal with a gift for getting his message across. In fact, David Garrick once said: “I would give a hundred guineas if I could say ‘Oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.”
Although his little remembered in his native England, Whitefield made an enormous impression on the American colonists. It is estimated that around eighty per-cent of the population of America heard him preach in person, and when he preached in Boston the crowd numbered 23,000. Benjamin Franklin reckoned that even more would be able to hear his strong voice, estimating that he would be able to be heard by over 30,000 people. If that sounds far-fetched, then consider that on a later trip across the Atlantic he would take services on the deck. Not only could the whole ship hear the preacher, but also those on the other two boats in the convoy!
Unsurprisingly he met with opposition, from both mobs which beat him and also Anglican clergymen who found all this enthusiasm rather vulgar. It was the closing of pulpits to him in this country which led to him spending so much time in America. That said, if you want to stand in a pulpit one occupied by the great man, then make your way to St Mary de Crypt Church in Gloucester.
Whitefield died aged 55, his health worn down by his perpetual preaching (he once said “I would rather wear out than rust out). He had preached over eighteen thousand sermons, and it is calculated he was heard by some ten million people. This son of Gloucester was mightily used by God!