By 1740 George Whitefield the great English preacher-evangelist was the best known man in the American colonies. At that time George Washington was only eight years old, John Adams was four, Thomas Jefferson was not yet born, and Benjamin Franklin was one of Whitefield's best friends. Whitefield strongly challenged the common widespread belief and teaching that the unsaved could be official members of churches and that ministers did not have to be regenerate to preach. Whitefield was shocked by these beliefs and these accepted practices and he laid the blame of this paralyzing theology squarely at the feet of the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729), who tolerated such ideas to swell the numbers of church attenders.
George Whitefield was born and raised in the Bell Inn, a pub or bar, in England and for a time served bear to its customers. He was converted to Christ in 1734 at the age of 20. A year later when he preached his first sermon the Anglican Bishop accused him of driving 15 people mad! His ministry deeply impacted London and English society through his preaching to crowds in the open field of thirty thousand and even as many as fifty thousand. He initially preached alongside John and Charles Wesley as well as the great Welsh revivalist Howell Harris.
Between 1738 and 1770 Whitefield made 13 cross Atlantic boat trips and conducted seven evangelistic tours of all the American colonies, preaching at least two or three times a day sometimes to crowds of ten or fifteen thousand in the open field. This was used of God to bring about the First Great Awakening which commenced in 1739. In just one ten-week period he ministered to almost half the population in the colonies. About 80 percent of those living in these colonies personally heard him preach the Gospel of salvation. Jonathan Edwards wife said she had never heard preaching like it. The generation leading into the American Revolution was deeply impacted by his life and message. Even his enemies could not ignore him. God chose to use a simple preacher to lay a spiritual foundation by which a new nation could be birthed.
Shortly before his final voyage to America his wife Elizabeth died. But he continued with his journey to America to preach the gospel. He desired to die preaching. On his last night he stood on the stairway leading to his bedroom and preached the Gospel to those gathered in the house. As he preached the lamp he was holding burnt out. He went to bed that night and went to be with the Lord. When John Wesley heard of Whitefield's death he said no man since the apostles has preached for so long a period of time in so wide a part of the inhabited earth with the Gospel in seeing so many saved. By the time of his death in 1770 he had preached about 18,000 times. His face and voice was far more familiar to Americans than Washington's was five years later at the beginning of the American Revolution which started in 1775.
A free nation is not just built upon the back of a political constitution (no matter how good it is) created by politicians, but rather it is established in righteousness through the preaching of Christ and Him crucified by consecrated preachers. The value of a God-anointed preacher sent of God in a political and social crisis hour cannot be overemphasized too much. Preachers like Whitefield contributed more to the American colonies than any politician or soldier. Some have argued that he should be counted amongst the founding Fathers of the nation. If every local preacher and pastor caught the vision of the value and influence of a godly and prayerful preacher nations would be impacted.
Real genuine outpourings of the Holy Spirit experienced during the preaching of William Tennent, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, as well as a host of other chosen vessels, initially impacted the American colonies in saving them from an atheistic, authoritarian, bloody Revolution like the one in France, and then numbers of times over during the following centuries as she stood at numerous political crossroads. I can only hope that preachers and churches are as prayerful, hopeful, and determined to see a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these months as they are to see a good result in the political election! Politics may fail a nation but the Gospel never fails.
My American friends, please remember your roots, the steps that led to the foundation and birth of your nation, and that the only reason it was blessed politically, militarily, and economically was because because of the fervent fiery preaching of the Gospel and repeated genuine localized outpourings to praying churches. Lord do it again!