October 14: A Memorial for George Whitefield

D. L. Moody is reported to have said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man wholly committed to him.” With all due respect, I think Mr. Moody overlooked a fair number of men, sold out to the Lord, wholly committed in all their labors. George Whitefield was one such man. On this day, October 14th, in 1770, the Rev. James Sproat brought a memorial address occasioned by the then recent death of Rev. Whitefield. While Whitefield was himself an Anglican, his influence among Presbyterians in the American colonies was extensive. What follows is but a small excerpt from that sermon. To read the full text of Rev. Sproat’s sermon, click here.

George Whitefield departed this life (according to our public accounts) on the 30th of September last, at Newbury Port, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New-England, by a sudden and violent fit of the asthma.

I am very sensible, my brethren, of my incapacity of doing justice to the memory of this truly great, and excellent personage. It really needs a genius like his own; and that eloquence, which was peculiar to himself; fully to delineate his character, and describe his virtue. I know not one character in the sacred pages, in which there is a great similarity, than the words of the text. He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith. And much people was added to the Lord. (Acts 11:24)

As to his person, we have all of us had frequent opportunities of admiring his graceful countenance and manly deportment; which commanded reverence and respect; excited esteem and affection in persons of every rank and quality.–His birth, parentage, and education, the world has long ago been favoured with accounts of, in his printed journals.—He early discovered a singular taste for science, joined with a sprightly and florid genius. His education was completed at Oxford, one of the most illustrious universities in Europe.–It pleased God, who designed him for very great and eminent services in his church, early to change his heart by the power of Divine grace; and by a thorough and remarkable conversion, to turn him from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that he might receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Thus all the powers of his mind became strongly engaged to the study of divinity. The important doctrines of grace, and the admirable scheme of redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ;—the condemned, miserable state of sinners;—free justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ received by faith alone;—the powerful operations of the holy and blessed Spirit to regenerate and sanctify the human heart, were subjects of his most solemn and delightful contemplation. Under the lively impression of those things, his pious heart was turned to the great work of the Gospel ministry. In this important business he engaged, and to this glorious work he devoted himself, as soon as the rules of that church, of which he was a member, would permit.

Being good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; fired with a flaming zeal for his Lord and master; filled with bowels of tender compassion to immortal souls; and favoured with more than Ciceronian eloquence;—he soon became the wonder of the world as a preacher. The attention of persons of all ranks, sects, and denominations, was attracted by him. And the hand of the Lord was with him in such a powerful manner, that great numbers were presently joined to the Lord by his ministry. Though he always manifested a peculiar regard for the Church of England, in which he had been educated; yet as he set out in the ministry upon principles truly catholic and noble, so he steadily and vigorously retained them to his expiring moments.

Pursuant to these principles of catholicism, he was determined not to know any thing among the people, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. Upon this plan he let out; and upon this plan he prosecuted the great work of preaching the gospel to all sorts of people that would give him an hearing. To Jews, infidels, freethinkers, as well as to all denominations of Christians without exception. And this grand business of publishing the gospel of peace he pursued for a great number of years with the most indefatigable assiduity, prodigious eloquence, and flaming zeal, through England, Scotland, Ireland, and the widely extended dominions of British America.

As a speaker, he was furnished with such admirable talents, with such an easy method of address, and was such a perfect master of the art of persuasion, that he triumphed over the passions of the most crowded auditories, with al the charms of sacred eloquence.—He was of undaunted courage and heroic resolution, in the cause of his divine Master. Nor the frowns, nor the flatteries of the world; with all its insults and outrages, its allurements or charms, could ever turn him aside from endeavouring to win immortal souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.


We urge you to read on. This is but an excerpt, pp. 16-18, from A discourse occasioned by the death of the Reverend George Whitefield, A.M., late Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Countess of Huntingdon : delivered October 14, 1770, in the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Philadelphia. (1771), by the Rev. James Sproat [1722-1793].

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