We’ve been looking at George Whitefield’s efforts to bring the Christian message to 18th century America.
Preaching amongst the black population
In 18th century America, the African population were almost all slaves. That they were slaves in the first place is an outrage, but we’re told the white population looked upon them as little better than animals, not only as inferior in intelligence, but not even having souls.
Whitefield rejected this completely and insisted on telling slaves that they were made in the image of God, and that they were so important to God that Christ died on the cross for them.
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.’[i]
Whitefield was committed to preaching that all are equal in the sight of God. This was offensive to many whites – but he insisted that all are made in the image of God.
Many African slaves were converted to Christ and the earliest spiritual songs were heard amongst those to whom Whitefield had preached.
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 she had mastered the language superbly. Her brilliance is evident in many of her published poems. She was the first African American poet to be published in America. 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.
Whitefield loved America, sought to build America, rebuke its wrongs and try and reach those it wronged, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
[i] Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, Vol 1, p.494
© 2010 Lex Loizides