George Whitefield and African American Christianity – 2

Phillis Wheatley, poet, aged 17

We’ve been looking at George Whitefield’s efforts to bring the Christian message to the whole population of 18th century America.

Preaching amongst the black population
Unbelievably, in 18th century America, the African slaves were considered little better than animals, without souls and certainly not equal to whites in any respect.

Whitefield rejected this completely and insisted on preaching to the slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that Christ loved them so much He died for them!

In the letter quoted above, he had written to the whites, ‘Think you, your children are in any way better by nature [than black children]? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin as white men are, and both, I am persuaded, are naturally as capable of the same improvement.’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth edition, Vol 1, p.494)

And so Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to the racist whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God.

Many slaves were converted to Christ and the earliest spiritual songs were heard amongst those to whom Whitefield had preached.

The Poem for whitefield, published

An African Tribute to George Whitefield
Whitefield was genuinely loved and appreciated by those who came to Christ through his preaching.

Phillis Wheatley a former slave with a superb literary gift, wrote a poem of appreciation about Whitefield after his death.

Wheatley herself is a marvel of intellectual ability, having been in America only 9 years, mastered the language so superbly and having written the remarkable poem aged only 17! She later wrote a poem for George Washington. He was so impressed with her poetic skill he said it would be a privilege to meet her.

Of Whitefield’s preaching she writes,
‘Thou didst, in Strains of Eloquence refin’d,
Inflame the Soul and captivate the Mind.’

Of his praying she writes,
‘He pray’d that Grace in every Heart might dwell:
He long’d to see America excel;
He charg’d its Youth to let the Grace Divine
Arise, and in their future Actions shine.’

Using his style of preaching she exhorts her readers:
‘Take HIM, ye wretched, for your only Good;
Take HIM, ye starving Souls, to be your Food.
Ye Thirsty, come to this Life-giving Stream:
Ye Preachers, take him for your joyful Theme:
Take HIM, “my dear Americans,” he said;
Be your Complaints in his kind Bosom laid:
Take HIM, ye Africans, he longs for you;
Impartial SAVIOUR, is his Title due;
If you will choose to walk in Grace’s Road,
You shall be Sons, and Kings, and Priests to GOD.’

Whitefield’s contribution to the development of African American Christianity was imperfect, but it was significant.

But Whitefield determined to love America, build America, rebuke its wrongs and try and reach those it wronged, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To read of Whitefield’s failure to oppose slavery click here

To read of Wesley’s encouragement to Wilberforce to fight slavery click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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One thought on “George Whitefield and African American Christianity – 2

  1. Dr. James Willingham March 26, 2010 / 4:31 pm

    Much as I love and appreciate George Whitefield, I must tell the truth. While George was certainly open about evangelizing the slaves and could be moved at their mistreatment, he was also not adverse to spreading the iniquitous institution. He had a run-in with the son of the founder, Oglethorpe, of Georgia over bringing slaves into that colony. The encounter was quite emotional, involving anger, according to what I read. So George – for all of his concern – could be just as wrong as those whom he opposed.

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