Mary Visits Elizabeth-John the Baptist is Born
Read Luke 1:39-80
Apparently the Holy Spirit told Elizabeth that Mary’s child was the Messiah because Elizabeth called her young relative “the mother of my Lord” as she greeted her. As Mary rushed off to visit her relative, she must have been wondering if the events of the last few days were real. Elizabeth’s greeting must have strengthened her faith. Mary’s pregnancy may have seemed impossible but her wise relative believed in the Lord’s faithfulness and rejoiced in Mary’s blessed condition.
Even though she herself was pregnant with a long-awaited son. Elizabeth could have envied Mary, whose son would be greater then her own. Instead she was filled with joy that the mother of her Lord would visit her. Have you ever envied people whom God has apparently singled out for special blessing? A cure for jealousy is to rejoice with those people, realizing that God uses his people in ways best suited to his purpose.
This song is often called the Magnificat, the first word in the Latin translation of this passage. Mary’s song has often been used as the basis for choral music an hymns. Like Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10), Mary glorified God in song for what he was going to do for the world through her. Notice that in both songs, God is pictured as a champion of the poor, the oppressed, and the despised.
When Mary said, “From now on all generations will call me blessed,” was she being proud? No, she was recognizing and accepting the gift God had given her. If Mary had denied her incredible position, she would have been throwing God’s blessing back at him. Pride is refusing to accept God’s gifts or taking credit for what God has done; humility is accepting the gifts and using them to praise and serve God. Don’t deny, belittle, or ignore your gifts. Thank God for them and use them to his glory.
God kept his promise to Abraham to be merciful to God’s people forever (Genesis 22:16-18). Christ’s birth fulfilled the promise, and Mary understood this. She was not surprised when her special son eventually announced that He was the Messiah. She had known Jesus mission from before his birth. Some of God’s promises to Israel are found in 2 Samuel 22:50-51; Psalms 89:2-4; 103:17-18, Micah 7:18-20.
Because travel was not easy, long visits were customary. Mary must have been a great help to Elizabeth, who was experiencing the discomforts of a first pregnancy in old age.
The circumcision ceremony was an important event to the family of a Jewish baby boy. God commanded circumcision when he was beginning to form his holy nation (Genesis 17:4-17), and here affirmed it through Moses (Leviticus 12:1-3). This ceremony was a time of joy when friends and family members celebrated the baby’s becoming part of God’s covenant nation.
Family lines and family names were important to the Jews. The people naturally assumed the child would received Zechariah’s name or at least a family name. Thus they were surprised that both Elizabeth and Zachariah wanted to name the boy John as the angel had told them to do.
Zechariah’s relative talked to him by gestures, because he was apparently deaf as well as speechless and had not heard what his wife had said.
Zechariah praised God with his first words after months of silence. In a song that is often called the Benedictus after the first words in the Latin translation of this passage. Zechariah prophesized the coming of a Savior who would redeem his people, and he predicted that his son John would prepare the Messiah’s way. All the Old Testament prophecies were coming true-no wonder Zechariah praised God! The Messiah would come in Zechariahs lifetime, and his son had been chosen to pave the way.
The Jews were eagerly awaiting the Messiah but they thought he would come to save them from the powerful Roman empire. The were ready for a military Savior, but not for a peaceful Messiah who would conquer sin.
This was God’s promise to Abraham to bless all people through him (see Genesis 12:3). It would be fulfilled through the Messiah, Abraham’s descendant.
Zechariah had just recalled hundreds of years of God’s sovereign work in history, beginning with Abraham and going on into eternity. Then, in tender contrast, he personalized the story. His son had been chosen for a key role in the drama of the ages. Although God has unlimited power, he chooses to work through frail humans who begin as helpless babies. Don’t minimize what God can do through those who are faithful to him.
Why did John live out in the desert? Prophets used the isolation of the uninhabited desert to enhance their spiritual growth and to focus their message on God. By being in the desert. John remained separate from the economic and political powers so that he could aim his message against them. He also remained separate from the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. His message was different from theirs, and his life proved it.
“….by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78, 79
Dark! You haven’t seen dark until you’ve grouped around Southeast Alaska on a moonless, overcast night in December. Dark! No distant loom of city lights, or flickering glow of northern lights to silhouette the horizon through the heavy cloud cover. Dark! Like a cave. (perhaps Jesus’ manger was in a place like that).
Reverend Elvin Borg was walking from a visit to a home in a remote area. The flashlight batteries were giving out-fast. He stooped ever lower straining to see the next tentative step with the dimming light. Finally, down on his hands and knees, he felt his way along the precarious crumbling dock high above the water. In inky blackness he slithered down the unseen shaking ramp to the slippery, slanting float where the boat was tied. How welcome the feel of a cold steel boat! He knew light was only seconds away.
Light! Ahh, wonderful light! Never carry a flashlight with dying batteries. Never try to walk in darkness!
Jesus came as the light of the world. heralded by shining angels. Bringing light into our dark lives.
Thank God we need not walk in spiritual darkness for Jesus comes to light our way. Never dimming. never failing. Never flickering in the winds of life. Never darkened by clouds. never quenched by tears. Ever faithful. Ever with us. Ever shining into the darkness with the warm light of Goods love. What a treasure, our Emanuel, God with us.
Our Father, thank you for the stable light whose glow awakes the sky and ignites the sun. Help us reflect Your light to those stumbling in darkness.
And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. – Luke 1:45
Think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Who was she? What must it have been like for her to bring God’s own Son into the world? See into Mary’s heart. Recognize the images of Christ in Mary’s life and then determine how it can apply to our lives. Then, placing our praises alongside Mary’s we can truly say, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47).
Jesus, You are come as the fulfillment of all God’s promises – born into this world to fill our needy hearts.
“My soul magnifies the Lord.” – Luke 1:46
Wonder about the animals at the birth of Jesus.
Jesus, You are so glorious that all creation sings Your praise!
“He has filled the hungry with good things….” – Luke 1:53
On the first Christmas morning Mary held everything she – and we – would need for her – and our – whole life in her arms. God’s Son had come to satisfy every hunger of the soul, as she had proclaimed in her song. And in obedience and faith, she had given the world its Savior, the one Good Gift from Whom all other good gifts would come.
Jesus, fill my soul with Your presence, the Good and Perfect Gift.
“He has helped his servant Israel… as he spoke to our fathers….” – Luke 1:54-55
It must have been difficult for Mary to share her newborn son so soon after He arrived. But the shepherds were right there on her doorstep within hours. From the beginning, Jesus belonged far beyond Mary’s little family.
Oh God, thank You for sharing Your very self with me in Jesus.
How might Mary have felt when Elizabeth greeted her like this? How is she “blessed” and encouraged?
What does Mary’s faith (vv38-45) model for you?
For what does Mary praise God in this song? What contrasts does she make in verses 51-53? How do these reflect her feelings about God? About herself?
Who are the “proud,” the “rulers,” and the “rich,” whose over throw she celebrates? How will Jesus fulfill the themes of this song?
What would a diary from this 3 month visit reveal (v. 56)?
Of the attributes of God celebrated in Mary’s song, which do you appreciate the most? Which challenges you the most? Why?
How does your life reflect God’s concern for justice, mercy, and deliverance? Would Mary consider you “God’s humble servant” or a “proud rich ruler”? Why?”
How did John’s birth fulfill the words of the angel in verses 13-17?
How did the neighbors and relatives respond to these events? How does all this begin to promote the Gospel?
As Zechariah’s neighbor, what would you be thinking about his new son?
What does it mean to you that “the Lord’s hand” is with someone: Success? Courage? Wealth? Endurance? Holiness? How was “the Lord’s hand” seen in John’s life? What does that mean to you?
Make a list of the things for which Zechariah praises God. How does his song compare and contrast with Mary’s (vv45-55)?
What does it mean that Zechariah was “filled with the Holy Spirit”? Do you think it was the same experience of the Spirit that believers experience today? Why or Why not?
What according to this song is the purpose of salvation? How does Zechariah’s song show God’s unfolding plan from Old Testament days to the coming of the Messiah?
Of the promises listed in this song, which one means the most to you at this stage in your life? Why?
How has God unfolded his plan of salvation in your life? Who helped prepare the way? What were some key events that led you to your commitment to Jesus?
Write a song of praise to God using the special events of your own spiritual pilgrimage.
What was Mary’s initial reaction to the angel’s appearance?
Why did God choose Mary to give birth to his Son?
What do you think was the hardest for Mary to comprehend?
How do you think Mary felt about giving birth to the Messiah?
Why did the angel tell Mary about Elizabeth’s condition?
After this encounter with the angel did Mary envision herself?
If an angel were to reveal God’s plan your life today, I would?
One way I can bring the Savior into the world right now is to
My biggest concern about bringing Christ to my world?
If indeed” the Lord is with me.” than I am encouraged that:
It is never enough simply to be competent , efficient minister. The minister must embody and live by the spiritual values that she or he represents, proclaim, and tries to persuade others to embrace.
In keeping with this principle that the minister is an instrument of God’s grace, the minister is also a sign of God’s grace.
Every ministry calls for a response of faith and love. But faith and love can only be called forth by “believing love” and loving faith. The minister, therefore, does more than provide a “service.” The minister witnesses to the reality he or she communicates.
“For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit” (Rom. 8:5). To be spiritual means to know and to live according to the knowledge that there is more to life than meets the eye. To be spiritual means beyond that, to know and live according to the knowledge that God is present to us in grace as the principle of personal transformation. To be open to the Spirit is to accept explicitly who we are and who we are called always to become and to direct our lives accordingly.
The term spirituality, therefore, embraces everything that we are, think, and do in relation to the triune God who is present in and yet transcends all that is. Spirituality might be defined as a style of life that flows from the presence of the Spirit within us and within the Church, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
We are, of course, already holy by reason of the Spirit’s indwelling within us, and that indwelling is in turn rooted in the creative act of the Father and the redemptive work of the Son. Christian spirituality is a matter of living in accordance with who we have become in the Spirit, of manifesting the fruits of the Spirit’s presence: mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and the like (Col 3:12; Gal. 5:22; Rom. 6:22).
If one is to understand what spirituality is all about and what it has to do with the Church and its ministries, one has to reflect more deliberately on this fundamental notion of sanctification.
Sanctification takes place in a person who is moving to a different level of human consciousness. The Christian is one who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord of their life and whose whole life is determined by that belief. The process by which a person moves to that new level of consciousness is called sanctification.
The call of Jesus was a call to repentance and faith, to a change of mind, or of consciousness and to a new-mode of behavior in keeping with that change of mind. We are to live according to the demands of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our life. We are to make God the center and active source of our whole being. We are to be transformed ourselves by the redemptive, healing presence of God and then to allow Good to work through us to redeem and heal others and the whole world, enemies as well as friends, the outcasts as well as the respectable the poor as well as the rich, the sinners as well as the righteous.
The whole of Jesus’ preaching is summed up by Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent (Change), and believe in the Gospel” (1:15). Thus His preaching is at once a proclamation and warning. It announces a divine act (the coming of the Kingdom of God) and demands a response from us (sanctification). The kingdom calls forth sanctification.
For Jesus nothing is more precious than the kingdom of God, that is, the healing and renewing presence and activity of God on our behalf. Instead, “seek his kingdom and these other things will be given you besides” (Luke 12:31). Like a person who finds a hidden treasure in a field or a merchant who discovers a precious pearl, we must be prepared to give up everything else in order to possess the Kingdom (Matt. 13:44-46).
But the Kingdom is promised only to those with a certain outlook and way of life (see the Beatitudes in Matt. 5:3-8). One can inherit the kingdom through love of one’s neighbor (Matt. 25:34-40), and yet one must also accept it as a child, that is as one without power (Matt. 10:15).
Jesus assured the scribe who grasped the meaning of the chief of the commandments (love of God and love of neighbor): “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). He also insisted to his disciples that their commitment to the kingdom would make strong demands upon them (Mark 10:1; Luke 9:57-62; Matt. 19:12).
Sanctification, therefore, has at least two components- repentance and faith. And both are directed to the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus call us, first to repentance (metanoia, a change of mind). To the Semite, metanoia meant a turning away from one’s former consciousness, now recognized as wrong, and striking out in a completely new direction.
Metanoia, embracing sanctification and repentance together’s not just sorrow for sin but a fundamental reorientation of one’s whole life. Jesus demanded that his listeners not only repent but also believe the gospel of forgiveness that he preached (Mark 2:10, 17). And he drove home his point with various parables, especially those in Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son in particular.
Jesus was so committed to the forgiveness of sins in the name of God that he made himself the friend of outcasts such as publicans and sinners and did not avoid their company (Matt. 11:19; Mark 2:16). Indeed he rejoiced over their sanctification (Luke 15:7-10; Matt. 18:13).
The antithesis of a repentant attitude, then as now, is an attitude of self-righteousness and presumption. Jesus repudiated the proud, Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14), the elder brother who resented his father’s benevolent reaction to the prodigal son’s return (Luke 15:25-32), and the discontented laborers in the vinegard (Matt.20:1-15). To those who set themselves proudly above others, Jesus declared that publicans and harlots would enter the kingdom before they would (Matt. 21:31-32). He condemned pompous religious leaders for trying to shut the doors of the kingdom (Matt. 23:13). All of us, he warned, are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10), ever in God’s debt (Matt. 6:12). God will exalt the humble and bring dow the proud (Luke 14:11; 18:14). We must pray that God forgives our trespasses. And only those who are without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7).
The early Church would continue this message: “Repent and be baptized…” (Acts 2:38). Repentance, therefore, remains a major element of Christian spirituality, even if not the central element.
Jesus also demanded faith, which is the positive side of sanctification (Mark 1:15). He said to the woman who had been afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years and who was cured by touching his clothing, “Daughter, your faith has saved you” (Luke 8:48). From there he went to the house of the official whose daughter was reported as already dead. Jesus disregarded the report and said to the official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith and she will be saved” (Luke 8:50).
It was the faith of the lame man’s friends that called forth from Jesus the forgiveness of his sins and physical healing (Mark 2:5). Faith is also central to the narrative of the cured boy in Mark 9:14-29. Jesus signed over this unbelieving generation (Mark 9:19) and reminded the boy’s father that all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 0:23).
Moved by the great faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus healed her daughter (Mark 7:26-30), and He drew attention to the faith of the pagan centurion who believed that a mere word from Jesus would heal his sick servant (Matt 8:10; Luke 7:9). On the other hand, where Jesus encountered an obstinate lack of faith, he was not able to manifest the signs of salvation (Mark 6:5-6). Sanctification is a radical transformation from which follows on all levels of life an interlocking series of changes and developments.
There is a change in oneself, in one’s relationships with others and in one’s relation to God. Sanctification then is the transformation of the individual and of his or her world. One’s direction is altered, one’s eyes are opened, and one perceives the world in a new way. Indeed one perceives a new world, the Kingdom of God.
To see a new world, that is, to see the Kingdom, is to enter a new form of existence, one rooted in the spirit rather than the flesh. One is intent now on the things of the spirit because one lives now “according to the spirit” (Rom. 8:5).
Sanctification is both act and process, once-and-for-all and ongoing. The final test of sanctification is whether or not leads to and is continually expressed in love for God. As John’s first epistle states it: “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother [or sister] whom he hass seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also so love their brother [and his sister] “(1 John 4:20-21). And those who so love their neighbor will enter the Kingdom for as often as we do it to one of these, the least of his brethren we do to to him (Matthew 25:40).
Spirituality is a general term, like religion. How is the Church’s minister to decide which of these spiritualities offer a genuine style of Christian life? How is the Church’s minister to discern the problems and difficulties that one finds in some spiritualities today?
The following criteria will help each minister and potential minister make these judgments:
Christian spirituality is holistic,
Christian spirituality is other-oriented,
Christian spirituality is pluralistic,
Christian spirituality is humane,
Christian spirituality is trinitarian,
Christian spirituality is kingdom-oriented,
Christian spirituality is sacrificial,
Christian spirituality is ecclesial or Church oriented,
Christian spirituality is for all Christians.
We are neither purely bodily creatures nor purely spiritual. Nor are we even primarily one or the other. We are body-spirits.
Ministry is not for the sake of personal fulfillment or material gratification. It exists always for the service of others-in there bodily as well as their spiritual needs. In other words just as the minister is a body-spirit, so are those whom the mister serves body spirits. Ministerial spirituality, therefore, must be holistic, not dualistic.
Accordingly no authentically Christian spirituality can attend exclusively or in an exaggerated fashion to the individual’s personal relationship with God, with Jesus, or with the Holy Spirit as it other persons and the wider created order did not enter intrinsically into those relationships. Our spirituality must open us to others, therefore, is never a sign of personal intimacy with God, who is present in others.
Christians, therefore, are people of virtue. They are people of faith, hope, and love. They are people of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. They are people of mercy and compassion. And they have an exquisite sense of humor because they really do see the great discrepancy between our finite human pretensions and the grandeur of the Kingdom that the Lord has promised us. To be a Christian is to love God in the other. Consequently, ministerial spirituality must be other-oriented, not individualistic.
Each individual has to have the freedom to cultivate his or her own personal relationship with God, but always in the contest of the Church at large and the particular community of faith with which the believer is associated.
We are graced. God is present and active within us. In fact , God’s presence enters into the very definition of what it means to be human.
To be graced is to be alive by a principle that transcends us, namely, the presence of God. For the Christian, however, God is triune. Christian spirituality, therefore, is trinitarian, not unitarian.
We are created, called, and sustained by the Father, redeemed and recreated by the Son, and renewed and empowered to live a fully human life by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, spirituality is not authentically Christian if it seeks to fashion a relationship with God the Father alone, with God the Son alone, or with God the Holy Spirit alone.
Humankind and the world in which we live are destined for and therefore oriented toward the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God, is a kingdom of justice and peace as well as of holiness and grace.
Justice is a cardinal virtue. To lack it is to lack something essential to Christian holiness. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matt. 11:4-5).
Jesus himself has set the standard for his Church’s ministers. Let them minister as he ministered. Let them cultivate a style of spiritual life oriented to the Kingdom of God, not one turned in upon itself and insensitive to the legitimate claims of the poor and oppressed. Let them not confuse attention to religious duties- rituals, laws, traditions, and customs-with the service of God. Ministerial spirituality, therefore, is Kingdom-oriented, not religion-oriented.
We are graced, but we are also sinners. There can be no authentically Christian spirituality apart from the Cross. Christian spirituality, therefore, is always marked by sacrifice, denial of selfish interests, even contradictions. It is mindful always of the impact of Original Sin: of pride, apathy, temerity, lust, hypocrisy, sloth, and the like.
The Christian knows, as a Christian, that there is no Easter without Good Friday. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:42). The Christian also knows, as a human being, that there is no love without cost. Love by its nature is sacrificial. It gives to the other without calculation. It seeks only the well-being of the other.
Married Christians who have raised a family know exactly what this means. This is not textbook spirituality. It is what life is all about. Just as we love sacrificially within the family, so we must be prepared to love sacrificially within the larger family of the Church and beyond that within the still larger human family.
A sacrificial spirituality, therefore, will be rooted in the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) and moral virtues (prudence justice, temperance, and fortitude). It’s center, however, will always be love. For sacrifice without love is empty. Ministerial spirituality is sacrificial, not selfish.
Our Christian faith comes in the first instance from the Church’s proclamation of the Word of God, and sustained within the faith community itself.
There is no authentically Christian spirituality apart from the life of the Church and especially from its life of worship.
Spirituality for All Christians
The call to Christian holiness is a universal call. There is no “higher” spirituality for the ordained, or is their a “lower: spirituality for the laity. The whole Church is the People of God, and the whole Church is called to holiness.
For that reason Christian spirituality is for all Christians and that includes, of course, all the Church’s ministers.
In light of your understanding of theological, doctrine, and sacred Scripture, how would you describe a truly holy, or spiritual, Christian?
That ministers must personally embody what they proclaim is a textbookish statement. Can you verify this from your own experience? Can you cite a case or two of people who have ministered to you or to your family and friends? How did the minister’s personal witness enter into the act of ministry itself?
From what you know of the charismatic movement and the Pentecostal and “born-again” movements in some of the Protestant churches, would you actively encourage or discourage Christians influenced by those movements to minister in your church? Explain?
Which of the ten criteria for spirituality do you think are most often violated in the Church as you know it today? Which of the ten criteria seem to be most frequently honored? Can you think of other criteria that might be useful in helping you and others to discern authentic from inauthentic Christian spiritualities?
Having a vibrant ministerial spirituality is easier said than done. If you were appointed as a spiritual director )a mythical post, of course), how would you go about reaching ministers at all levels: presbyters, deacons, religious educators, youth ministers, College chaplains, hospital chaplains, ministers to the elderly, social ministers and so forth?
You’re on duty in the church office one day, and someone comes to the door. The person acts a bit self-conscious but is obviously intelligent and serious. First comes a question: “How do I go about becoming a minister in the church?” Before you can even begin to answer, the person adds a request: “I’d need someone to help me grow spiritually so that my ministry here would be as fruitful as possible.” Could you offer such a person any help? Where would you begin?
BORN: December 16, 1714
DIED: September 30, 1770
LIFE SPAN: 55 years, 9 months, 14 days
WHITEFIELD WAS THE MOST TRAVELED preacher of the gospel up
to his time and many feel he was the greatest evangelist of
all time. Making 13 trips across the Atlantic Ocean was a
feat in itself, for it was during a time when sea travel was
primitive. This meant he spent over two years of his life
traveling on water–782 days. However, his diligence and
sacrifice helped turn two nations back to God. Jonathan
Edwards was stirring things up in New England, and John
Wesley was doing the same in England. Whitefield completed
the trio of men humanly responsible for the great awakening
on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent about 24 years of
ministry in the British Isles and about nine more years in
America, speaking to some ten million souls.
It is said his voice could be heard a mile away, and
his open-air preaching reached as many as 100,000 in one
gathering! His crowds were the greatest ever assembled to
hear the preaching of the gospel before the days of amplifi-
cation–and, if we might add, before the days of
He was born in the Bell Inn where his father,
Thomas, was a wine merchant and innkeeper. The father died
when George was two. George was the youngest of seven chil-
dren. His widowed mother, Elizabeth (born in 1680), strug-
gled to keep the family together. When the lad was about ten
his mother remarried, but it was not a happy union.
Childhood measles left him squint-eyed the rest of his life.
When he was twelve he was sent to the St. Mary de Crypt
Grammar School in Gloucester. There he had a record of tru-
ancy but also a reputation as an actor and orator.
At about 15 years of age George persuaded his mother
to let him leave school because he would never make much use
of his education–so he thought! He spent time working in
Hidden in the back of his mind was a desire to
preach. At night George sat up and read the Bible. Mother
was visited by an Oxford student who worked his way through
college and this report encouraged both mother and George to
plan for college. He returned to grammar school to finish
his preparation to enter Oxford, losing about one year of
When he was 17 he entered Pembroke College at Oxford
in November, 1732. He was gradually drawn from former sinful
associates, and after a year, he met John and Charles Wesley
and joined the Holy Club. Charles Wesley loaned him a book,
The Life of God in the Soul of Man. This book–plus a severe
sickness which resulted because of long and painful periods
of spiritual struggle–finally resulted in his conversion.
This was in 1735. He said many years later:
I know the place…Whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help
running to the spot where Jesus Christ first revealed him-
self to me, and gave me the new birth.
Many days and weeks of fasting, and all the other
tortures to which he had exposed himself so undermined his
health that he was never again a well man. Because of poor
health, he left school in May, 1735, and returned home for
nine months of recuperation. However, he was far from idle,
and his activity attracted the attention of Dr. Benson, who
was the bishop of Gloucester. He announced he would gladly
ordain Whitefield as a deacon. Whitefield returned to Oxford
in March of 1736 and on June 20, 1736, Bishop Benson or-
dained him. He placed his hands upon his head–whereupon
George later declared, “My heart was melted down, and I of-
fered my whole spirit, soul and body to the service of God’s
Whitefield preached his first sermon the following
Sunday. It was at the ancient Church of Saint Mary de Crypt,
the church where he had been “baptized” and grown up as a
boy. People, including his mother, flocked to hear him. He
described it later:
…Some few mocked, but most for the present, seemed struck,
and I have since heard that a complaint was made to the
bishop, that I drove fifteen people mad, the first sermon.
More than 18,000 sermons were to follow in his lifetime, an
average of 500 a year, or ten a week. Many of them were
given over and over again. Less than 90 of them have sur-
vived in any form.
The Wednesday following his first sermon, he re-
turned to Oxford where the B.A. degree was conferred upon
him. Then he was called to London to act as a supply minis-
ter at the Tower of London. He stayed only a couple of
months, and then returned to Oxford for a very short time,
helping a friend in a rural parish for a few weeks. He also
spent much time amongst the prisoners at Oxford during this
The Wesley brothers had gone to Georgia in America,
and Whitefield got letters from them urging him to come
there. He felt called to go, but the Lord delayed the trip
for a year, during which time he began to preach with power
to great crowds throughout England. He preached in some of
the principal churches of London and soon no church was
large enough to hold those who came to hear him.
He finally left for America from England on January
10, and on February 2, 1738, sailed from Gibraltar, although
he had left England in December. The boat was delayed a cou-
ple of places, but Whitefield used the extra time preaching.
He arrived in America on May 7, 1738. Shortly after arrival
he had a severe bout with fever. Upon recovering he visited
Tomo-Chici, an Indian chief who was on his death bed. With
no interpreter available, Whitefield could only offer a
prayer in his behalf.
He loved Georgia and was not discouraged there as
were the Wesleys. He was burdened about orphans, and started
to collect funds for the same. He opened schools in Highgate
and Hampstead, and also a school for girls in Savannah. Of
course he also preached. On September 9, 1738, he left
Charleston, South Carolina, for the trip back to London. It
was a perilous voyage. For two weeks a bad storm beat the
boat. About one-third of the way home, they met a ship from
Jamaica which had ample supplies to restock the dwindling
food and water cargo on their boat. After nine weeks of
tossing to and fro they found themselves in the harbor of
Limerick, Ireland, and in London in December.
On Sunday, January 14, 1739, George Whitefield was
ordained as a priest in the Church of England by his friend,
Bishop Benson, in an Oxford ceremony.
Upon his return to London, he thought that the doors
would be opened and that he would be warmly received.
Instead it was the opposite. Now many churches were closed
to him. His successes, preaching, and connection with
Methodist societies–in particular his association with the
Wesleys–were all opposed by the establishment. However, he
preached to as many churches as would receive him, working
and visiting with such as the Moravians and other non-con-
formist religious societies in London. However, these build-
ings were becoming too small to hold the crowds. Alternative
plans had to be formulated.
Howell Harris of Wales was preaching in the fields.
Whitefield wondered if he ought to try it too. He concluded
he was an outcast anyway, so why not try to reach people
this “new” way? He held a conference with the Wesleys and
other Oxford Methodists before going to Bristol in February.
Soon John Wesley would be forced to follow Whitefield’s
Just outside the city of Bristol was a coal mine
district known as Kingswood Hill. Whitefield first preached
here in the open on February 17, 1739. The first time about
200 came to hear him, but in a very short time he was
preaching to 10,000 at once. Often they stood in the rain
listening with the melodies of their singing being heard two
One of his favorite preaching places was just out-
side London, on a great open tract known as Moorfields. He
had no designated time for his services, but whenever he be-
gan to preach, thousands came to hear–whether it was 6 a.m.
or 8 p.m. Not all were fans, as evidenced by his oft-re-
peated testimony, “I was honored with having stones, dirt,
rotten eggs and pieces of dead cats thrown at me.” In the
morning some 20,000 listened to him, and in the evening some
35,000 gathered! Whitefield was only 25 years old. Crowds up
to 80,000 at one time gathered there to hear him preach for
an hour and a half.
There seems to be nothing unusual in content about
his printed sermons, but his oratory put great life into
them. He could paint word pictures with such breathless viv-
idness that crowds listening would stare through tear-filled
eyes as he spoke. Once, while describing an old man trem-
bling toward the edge of a precipice, Lord Chesterfield
jumped to his feet and shouted as George walked the man un-
knowingly toward the edge–“He is gone.” Another time in
Boston he described a storm at sea. There were many sailors
in the crowd, and at the very height of the “tempest” which
Whitefield had painted an old salt jumped to his feet and
shouted, “To the lifeboats, men, to the lifeboats!” Often as
many as 500 would fall in the group and lay prostrate under
the power of a single sermon. Many people made demonstra-
tions, and in several instances men who held out against the
Spirit’s wooing dropped dead during his meetings. Audible
cries of the audience often interrupted the messages. People
usually were saved right during the progress of the service.
The altar call as such was not utilized.
On August 1, 1739, the Bishop of London denounced
him–nevertheless on August 14 he was on his way to his sec-
ond trip to America, taking with him about $4,000 which he
had raised for his orphanage. This time he landed near
Philadelphia on October 30, preaching here before going
south. The old courthouse had a balcony, and Whitefield
loved to preach from it whenever he came here. People stood
in the streets all around to listen to him. When preaching
on Society Hill near Philadelphia he spoke to 6,000 in the
morning and 8,000 in the evening. On the following Sunday
the respective crowds were 10,000 to 25,000. At a farewell
address, more than 35,000 gathered to hear him. Benjamin
Franklin became a good friend of the evangelist, and he was
always impressed with the preaching although not converted.
Once Franklin emptied his pockets at home, knowing that an
offering would be taken. But it was to no avail. So powerful
was the appeal at Whitefield’s meeting that Franklin ended
up borrowing money from a stranger sitting nearby to put in
From Philadelphia Whitefield went to New York. Again
the people thronged to hear him by the thousands. He
preached to 8,000 in the field, on Sunday morning to 15,000,
and Sunday afternoon to 20,000. He returned again and again
to these cities.
After a short stay here, he was eager to reach
Georgia. He went by land with at least 1,000 people accompa-
nying him from Philadelphia to Chester. Here he preached to
thousands with even the judges postponing their business un-
til his sermon was over. He preached at various places,
journeying through Maryland and ending up at Charleston,
South Carolina. He finally ended up in Savannah on January
10, 1740, going by canoe from Charleston. His first order of
business was to get an orphanage started. He rented a large
house for a temporary habitation for the homeless waifs, and
on March 25, 1740, he laid the first brick of the main
building, which he named Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy.”
With things under control in the South, he sailed up
to New England in September, 1740, for his first of three
trips to that area. He arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, to
commence what historians call the focal point of “the first
great awakening.” Jonathan Edwards had been sowing the seed
throughout the area–and Whitefield’s presence was the straw
that was to break the devil’s back. He preached in Boston to
the greatest crowds ever assembled there to hear the gospel.
Some 8,000 assembled in the morning and some 15,000 returned
to the famous Commons in the evening. At Old North Church
thousands were turned away, so he took his message outside
to them. Later, Governor Belcher drove him to the Commons
where 20,000 were waiting to hear him. He was invited more
than once to speak to the faculty and students of Harvard.
At Salem, hundreds could not get into the building where he
He then preached four times for Edwards in
Northampton, Massachusetts (October 17-20), and, though he
stayed in New England less than a month that time, the re-
vival that was started lasted for a year and a half. He left
January 24, 1741, and returned to England March 14, 1741.
There he found that John Wesley was diverging from Calvinist
doctrine, so he withdrew from the Wesley Connexion which he
had embraced. Thereupon, his friends built him a wooden
church named the Moorfields Tabernacle. A reconciliation was
later made between the two evangelists, but they both went
their separate ways from then on. Thenceforth, Whitefield
was considered the unofficial leader of Calvinistic
Unique details are available following his break
with Wesley. They begin with his first of fourteen trips to
Scotland July 30, 1741. This trip was sponsored by the
Seceders, but he refused to limit his ministrations to this
one sect who had invited him–so he broke with them.
Continuing his tour, he was received everywhere with enthu-
siasm. In Glasgow many were brought under deep conviction.
The largest audience he ever addressed was at Cambuslang,
near Glasgow, where he spoke to an estimated 100,000 people!
He preached for an hour and a half to the tearful crowd.
Converts from that one meeting numbered nearly 10,000. Once
he preached to 30,000; another day he had five services of
20,000. Then he went on to Edinburgh where he preached to
20,000. In traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh he preached
to 10,000 souls every day. He loved it so much he cried out,
“May I die preaching,” which, in essence, he did.
Then he went on to Wales, where he was to make fre-
quent trips in the future, and was received with great re-
spect and honor. Here he met his wife to be, Elizabeth
James, an older widow. They were married there on November
14, 1741, and on October 4, 1743, one son was born, named
John, who died at age four months, the following February.
In 1742 a second trip was made to Scotland. During
the first two visits here Scotland was spiritually awakened
and set “on fire” as she had not been since the days of John
Knox. Subsequent visits did not evidence the great revivals
of the early trips, but these were always refreshing times
for the people. Then a tour through England and Wales was
made from 1742 to 1744. It was in 1743 that he began as mod-
erator for the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales, which posi-
tion he held a number of years.
In 1744 George Whitefield almost became a martyr. He
was attacked by a man uttering abusive language, who called
him a dog, villain, and so forth, and then proceeded to beat
him unmercifully with a gold-headed cane until he was almost
unconscious. About this time, he was also accused of misap-
propriating funds which he had collected. Nothing could be
further from the truth.
At least once he had to sell what earthly posses-
sions he had in order to pay a certain debt that he had in-
curred for his orphanage, and to give his aged mother the
things she needed. Friends had loaned him the furniture that
he needed when he lived in England. When he died he was a
pauper with only a few personal possessions being the extent
of his material gain.
Another trip was made to America from 1744 to 1748.
On his way home because of ill health, he visited the
Bermudas. It was a pleasant trip. On the trip he preached
regularly and saw many souls won to the Lord. It was in 1748
that he said, “Let the name of Whitefield die so that the
cause of Christ may live.” A fourth trip to America was made
October 27, 1751, to May, 1752.
Upon his return to England he was appointed one of
the chaplains to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon–known as
Lady Huntingdon, a friend since 1748. His mother died at 71
in December of 1751. In 1753 he compiled “Hymns for Social
Worship.” This was also the year he traveled 800 miles on
horseback, preaching to 100,000 souls. It was during this
time that he was struck on the head by stones and knocked
off a table upon which he had been preaching. Afterwards he
said, “We are immortal till our work is done,” a phrase he
would often repeat.
In 1754 Whitefield embarked again for America, with
22 orphans. En route he visited Lisbon, Portugal, and spent
four weeks there. In Boston thousands awakened for his
preaching at 7 a.m. One auditorium seating 4,000 saw great
numbers turned away while Whitefield, himself, had to be
helped in through a window. He stayed from May, 1754, to
In 1756 he was in Ireland. He made only two, possi-
bly three, trips here. On this occasion, at age 42, he al-
most met death. One Sunday afternoon while preaching on a
beautiful green near Dublin, stones and dirt were hurled at
him. Afterwards a mob gathered, intending to take his life.
Those attending to him fled, and he was left to walk nearly
a half a mile alone, while rioters threw great showers of
stones upon him from every direction until he was covered
with blood. He staggered to the door of a minister living
close by. Later he said, “I received many blows and wounds;
one was particularly large near my temples.” He later said
that in Ireland he had been elevated to the rank of an
Apostle in having had the honor of being stoned.
Also in 1756 he opened the Congregational Chapel
bearing his name on Tottenham Court Road, London. He minis-
tered here and at the before-mentioned Moorsfield Tabernacle
often. A sixth trip was made to America from 1763 to 1765.
In 1768 he made his last trip to Scotland, 27 years
after his first. He was forced to conclude, “I am here only
in danger of being hugged to death.” He visited Holland,
where he sought help for his body, where his health did im-
prove. It is also recorded that he once visited Spain. His
wife died on August 9, 1768, and Whitefield preached the fu-
neral sermon, using Romans 8:28 as a text. He dedicated the
famous Tottenham Court Road Chapel on July 23, 1769.
On September 4, 1769, he started on his last voyage
to America, arriving November 30. He went on business to
make arrangements for his orphanage to be converted into
Bethesda College. He spent the winter months of 1769-70 in
Georgia, then with the coming of spring he started north. He
arrived in Philadelphia in May, traveling on to New England.
Never was he so warmly received as now. The crowds flocked
in great numbers to see him. July was spent preaching in New
York and Albany and places en route. In August he reached
Boston. For three days in September he was too ill to
preach, but as soon as he could be out of bed he was back
preaching. His last written letter was dated September 23,
1770. He told how he could not preach, although thousands
were waiting to hear.
On September 29, he went from Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, to Newburyport, Massachusetts. He preached en
route in the open at Exeter, New Hampshire. Looking up he
Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If
I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for
thee once more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home
He was given strength for this, his last sermon. The
subject was Faith and Works. Although scarcely able to stand
when he first came before the group, he preached for two
hours to a crowd that no building then could have held.
Arriving at the parsonage of the First Presbyterian
Church in Newburyport–which church he had helped to found–
he had supper with his friend, Rev. Jonathan Parsons. He in-
tended to go at once to bed. However, having heard of his
arrival, a great number of friends gathered at the parsonage
and begged him for just a short message. He paused a moment
on the stairs, candle in hand, and spoke to the people as
they stood listening–until the candle went out. At 2 a.m.,
painting to breathe, he told his traveling companion Richard
Smith, “My asthma is returning; I must have two or three
days’ rest.” His last words were, “I am dying,” and at 6
a.m. on Sunday morning he died–September 30, 1770.
The funeral was held on October 2 at the Old South
First Presbyterian Church. Thousands of people were unable
to even get near the door of the church. Whitefield had re-
quested earlier to be buried beneath the pulpit if he died
in that vicinity, which was done. Memorial services were
held for him in many places.
John Wesley said:
Oh, what has the church suffered in the setting of that
bright star which shone so gloriously in our hemisphere. We
have none left to succeed him; none of his gifts; none
anything like him in usefulness.