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For thirty-four George Whitefield followed the Biblical dictum: “Go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Traveling by horseback, by schooner, and even by rowboat, he sought converts in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Holland, Bermuda, and colonial America. The out-of-doors was often his chapel; and a mound, tree stump, horse’s back, or hogshead, served as his pulpit. In his itinerating, Whitefield averaged about forty hours of preaching each week and eventually delivered about 18,000 sermons to some ten million auditors. An analysis of Whitefield’s oratory during his entire evangelical career from 1737 to 1770 would make a valuable contribution to the history of American and English public address. However, a doctoral study based on such an extended and intensive career would necessarily result in superficial survey. Hence it seemed advisable to restrict this work to one of the significant periods of preaching in order that a definitive analysis might be made. Whitefield’s preaching during the Great Awakening in America was selected as the field of concentration for the following reasons, according to the historians the Great Awakening constituted the first great social movement in American history. (1) According to the historian with Awakening constituting the first Grace social movement in American history. (2) Authorities have characterized Whitefield’s preaching as the most important single contributing factor to the outbreak of the revival. (3) No defective study of why it was preaching during his period has been undertaken. (4) Abundant primary materials concerning Whitefield and the Great Awakening are available in American archives.

The procedure of investigation used was the customary historical and rhetorical method. The following libraries were visited to obtain primary materials: American Society, Harvard University, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston Athenaeum, Boston Public Library, New York Public Library, and The Library of Congress. Additional materials were obtained by microfilm from the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, Yale University Library, and Southern Methodist University Library. Colonial Newspapers, magazines, Journals, letters, Pamphlets, and books constituted the primary sources of materials.

According to historians, the eruption of religious excesses in 1739 to 17 40 throughout Colonial America was precipitated chiefly by Whitefield. His success with the populace was “unparalleled in American pulpit history,” although he offended some of the conservative elements, especially the ecclesiastical authorities. His sermons were directed chiefly at the uneducated people, who constituted the great bulk of his listeners. Such persons had no desire to hear church doctrine stated logically and applied soberly to their problem. They craved drama and excitement; they yearned for entertainment and stimulation. He capitalized upon their desires by presenting sermons almost entirely lacking in logical proof but rich sensationalism, vivid imagery, and dramatic qualities. He dramatized biblical narratives, making them of fascinating stories which contained suspense, conflict, and climaxes. He personified characters from both Old and New Testaments, even going to the extreme of “interpreting” the emotions of Christ when he hung upon the cross.

Whitefield appealed to the listeners’ desire for increased self-status by proclaiming that the rich were as deeply mired in “original sin” as the poorest and most illiterate frontiersmen in the audience. He sneered at the feebleness of human reasoning and declared that the only valid knowledge was the divine will. He placed himself upon the same level with the listeners and talked to them as one friend to another. He spoke of “our sins” “our God” “your troubles” and “my faith in you”. Numerous rhetorical questions gave his sermons the aspect of a two-way discussion.

At times Whitefield posed as a divine emissary sent by God to bring sinners “home to Christ”. He frequently offered to meet his hearers at judgement day, when he should intercede for them with God. He promoted that believers should sit at the right hand of God and should talk with the prophets and apostles for all eternity. However, with grim visage and ringing voice he threatened sinners with hell’s fires, and “lakes of brimstone.” He vowed he should appear against them before God and help condemn them to hell forever.

The main source of power in Whitefield’s delivery lay in his ability to lose himself completely in his motions that he was able to stir up similar emotion in his audiences. Frequently in the midst of his sermons he would reach a state of near-hysteria, would believe that the Ghost had entered into his soul and was giving him utterances. It was chiefly during these emotional climaxes that audiences are “melted-down’ into tears. Contemporaries reported that his deep, powerful voice possessed music and pathos. The sweeps and turns of his voice were “charming song” that fascinated and led many to experience what they believe to be the “Presences of God.” Whitefield customarily processed dynamic bodily animation upon the platform. His movements were graceful, powerful, and at times violent. Some conservative persons found his actions “repulsive,” but the great share of his listeners were captured by the magnetism of his presences.

There can be little doubt that the preaching of George White during the Great Awakening made him one of the most important in the history of modern religion. His importance Lies first, in bringing new seal for religion to the great masses in America; second, in introducing a new era of fiery emotional preaching in place of the dull, logical forever which swept colonial America, and which in turn motivated the rapid development of the Methodist, Baptist, and develop the democratic sentiment by creating the first important social movement common to all the American colonies.