George Whitefield (1714–1770)

George Whitefield was a famous friend of Edwards. While American revivalists such as Edwards and Gilbert Tennent limited their activities to relatively small areas, Whitefield enlarged the Awakening into an intercolonial, interdenominational effort aimed at restoring spiritual energy to churches. Whitefield, an Anglican priest, was a fiery preacher and could move vast audiences with his intensely dramatic sermons. The great English actor David Garrick claimed he would give a hundred guineas just to be able to say the word “Oh” the way Whitefield did. Practical-minded Benjamin Franklin came to hear a Whitefield sermon and ended up emptying his purse to help fund a charity Whitefield sponsored. Both the poor and the privileged turned out to hear this orator, whose popularity was unparalleled in the century. However, because many churches were closed to him as they were to his friend and advisor John Wesley, Whitefield often took to preaching in open fields, barns, or courthouses on both sides of the Atlantic. He journeyed to America seven times and impacted colonial society from New Hampshire to Georgia. So great was his popularity in America that, like Edwards Whitefield was criticized by many clergymen who resented the emotionalism and occasional disorders. Charles Chauncy was one of the most vocal critics of both Edwards and Whitefield. Edwards himself was deeply impressed by Whitefield’s presence, and when Whitefield preached in Edwards’ church Edwards wept during most of the service. While Whitefield was no match for Edwards’ skill as a theologian and thinker, his zeal and genuine piety left their mark on Edwards and on the Great Awakening. Without Whitefield the amazing phenomena of 1740–41 ...

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