George Whitefield: Sermons & Role in the Great Awakening

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  • 0:06 Who Is George Whitefield?
  • 0:45 London Preacher
  • 1:16 American Revivals
  • 1:54 The Great Awakening
  • 3:44 Whitefield's Importance
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
George Whitefield was a preacher and public figure who led many revival meetings both in England and the American colonies. He became a religious icon who spread a message of personal salvation and a more democratic Christianity.

Who Is George Whitefield?

George Whitefield is one of the most important men from the formative period of the American colonies. Religion was in the forefront of the mid 1700s as the colonies expanded, and Whitefield played a crucial role in that expansion. Let's learn more about this incredibly important figure in American religious and colonial history.

Whitefield was born in 1714. He grew up with a hard working background, waiting tables at his family's inn. In his early, formative years, Whitefield became a practicing Christian. As he studied at Oxford University, his faith deepened and became stronger. Ultimately, his years as an Oxford student helped to prepare him for the work he would one day undertake.

London Preacher

In 1736, Whitefield became ordained and began his preaching career. He was originally based in London, which was at that time the center of the civilized world in many ways. Whitefield's early sermons focused very heavily on religious conversion as a fundamental and emotional experience. In an age when newspapers were the primary mass media, Whitefield excelled at spreading his message through the press, raising his profile as he went. During these early years of ministry, Whitefield took on the role of social reformer as well.

American Revivals

In 1738, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic to serve as a minister in Georgia. There he not only preached in the new colony but also worked to found an orphanage. He returned to England briefly to raise money for the Bethesda Orphanage and returned to the colonies in 1739, just as a large-scale religious revival was occurring.

George Whitefield's preaching style relied heavily upon dramatics. He worked best in outdoor environments, where his flamboyant style and emphasis on the new birth necessary to become a Christian would mesmerize the masses who had gathered to hear him. This style of preaching was exactly what was popular and being sought out in the American colonies at this time.

The Great Awakening

In 1740, Whitefield went on a long preaching circuit from New York City to South Carolina. During this time, he preached to numerous large audiences which were in the thousands. His style of preaching drew in people from all over, spreading the message of the gospel. In many ways, Whitefield was, for the first time, gathering together colonists from various colonies to hear a united message. It was a precursor of what was to come years later when colonists would band together around central political ideas.

Whitefield's message relied heavily upon the idea of the new birth, which taught that individuals must be born again to become followers of Christ. He presented this message with an anti-authority tone that became incredibly popular with the colonial public. Whitefield spoke against established clergy, spreading a message of democratic religion that relied upon commoners to grow and continue. His words were a major part of the First Great Awakening. The First Great Awakening was a religious revival that swept through the American colonies in the 1740s. This awakening led to social and political changes that would have long-lasting consequences.

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