Revivalist and preacher George Whitefield was born on December 16, 1714, in Gloucester, England. The youngest of seven children, he was only two when his father died. His widowed mother struggled to provide for her family, and George left school for a time to help her. Little is known of his school days other than the fact that his rhetoric and memory were notable.
He eventually finished grammar school and enrolled at Oxford at the age of 17. Those university years became the turning point of his life. Drawn into a group called the “Holy Club,” he met John and Charles Wesley and was converted to Christ in 1735. Whitefield was ordained in 1736 when he completed his Oxford degree.
The first of his many trips to America was made in 1738, when he spent a short time in Georgia in the mission post vacated by John Wesley. Returning to England, Whitefield found that his connection with the Wesleys and the evangelical character of his preaching had erased his popularity with Church of England clerics. Excluded from their pulpits, Whitefield began a series of open-air meetings in Bristol, moving on to exhort tens of thousands of people in London’s Moorfields and Kennington Common. He persuaded John Wesley to carry on the work, and he returned to America, where he was an influential figure in the Great Awakening.
Whitefield was an astounding preacher from the beginning. Though slender of build, he stormed in the pulpit as if he were a giant. It was said that “his voice startled England like a trumpet blast.” His messages were gospel-focused, simple and clear, bold, descriptive, earnest, and filled with pathos and emotion. Some calculate that he preached more than 18,000 sermons–and fewer than ninety have survived in any form. Among those, most notable are “The Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent” (Genesis 3:15); “Walking with God” (Genesis 5:24); “Christ, the Believer’s Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30); “The Potter and the Clay” (Jeremiah 8:1-6); and “The Temptation of Christ” (Matthew 4:1-11).