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home : blogs : inspiration corner August 20, 2014

Inspiration Corner
By Barbara Steiner
Classic stories from American history and the Bible
Friday, July 26, 2013

A Burning Light

Barbara Steiner

What is his name?

He and his messages were news. By age twenty-four he had preached to more people than anyone alive. His audiences in England and America often numbered several thousands.

Benjamin Franklin heard about the huge audiences and wondered, "Is it possible?" One evening as the preacher spoke from the top of the courthouse steps in Philadelphia in 1739, Franklin did a simple experiment and said, "I computed that he might be heard by more than thirty thousand people."

Millions of people read his words or heard him speak. It is estimated that eighty percent of all the people living in the thirteen American colonies heard him at least once. Nobody spoke to as many people as he did until the twentieth century, when radio, television, films, and the Internet became available. Wherever he could have an audience he preached.

He used no notes, spoke simple words, with a voice that was clear and like music. His messages dramatically presented Bible characters and stories. He wanted people to know God loved them as individuals. Christianity was not deadening ideas; it was having a personal trust in Jesus Christ.

As a travelling preacher, he refused to represent a particular church or denomination or speak to one ethnicity. He wanted all people to hear the message of salvation. One evening as he preached outdoors he made up a conversation with Abraham of the Old Testament. He called, "Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians?"


"Any Presbyterians?"


"Any Independents or Seceders, New Sides or Old Sides, any Methodists?"

"No! No! No!"

"Whom have you there, then, Father Abraham?"

"We don't know those names here! All who are here are... believers in Christ...."

"Oh, is that the case? Then God help me, God help us all, to forget having names and to become Christians in deed and in truth!"

Yes, Whitefield and his messages were news and he was no slippery hypocrite. He refused to be rich. At his meetings large sums of money were raised for orphans, the poor, and many special needs. He was known for financial integrity. There was no hint of sexual misconduct. He argued for better treatment of slaves, being able to preach to slaves, and educating slaves. He did not understand the evils of slave trade.

He wrote that Boston had a form of religion with little power. He blamed the ministers when he said, "The reason why congregations have been so dead is because they had dead men preaching to them." Many ministers were infuriated; others said that they recognized God's truth in his words.

Crowds continued coming. When he changed his schedule and went to Middletown, Connecticut, riders galloped ahead of him spreading the news that the man who had preached in Philadelphia would soon be at the meetinghouse. When he arrived in Middletown several thousand horses had been tethered in long lines at the back of a huge crowd of farmers and their families.

Jonathan Edward's wife Sarah wrote, "It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible....Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected."

This preacher was named George Whitefield. He preached his last sermon the night he died at age fifty-five in Massachusetts.

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