When God closes a door, someone said, he always opens a window. In Whitefield’s case, many doors closed but God opened up the world.

George Whitefield became a Christian while attending Oxford in 1735. He soon began preaching, finding huge crowds whenever he mounted a pulpit. On Wednesday, January 10, 1739, having preached the previous night, he rose to leave for Oxford to be ordained to the Anglican ministry. His diary reads: Slept about three hours, rose at five, set out at ten, and reached Oxford by five in the evening. As I entered the city, I called to mind the mercies I had received since I left it. They are more than I am able to express. Oh that my heart may be melted by the sense of them.

He expected church doors to open following his ordination, but the reverse occurred. Many ministers envied his success. Some didn’t trust his association with Methodists, Moravians, and other nonconformists. And Whitefield alienated others by sometimes speaking too critically.

A Welsh evangelist, Howell Harris, was creating a storm by preaching in the fields, and Whitefield wondered if he, too, should take to the open air. Outside Bristol among coal miners Whitefield preached out-of-doors for the first time on February 17. About 200 heard him. Soon 10,000 were showing up, and that launched a lifetime of preaching from tombstones, tree stumps, and makeshift platforms.

Whitefield’s sermons were electric. His vivid imagination, prodigious memory, powerful voice, and ardent sincerity mesmerized listeners. He could be heard a mile away, and his voice was so rich that British actor David Garrick said, “I would give 100 guineas if I could say ‘O’ like Mr. Whitefield.”

Later that year, Whitefield, 25, toured the American colonies, sparking the Great Awakening and bringing multitudes to Christ. His final sermon in Boston drew the largest crowd that had ever gathered in America—23,000 people, more than Boston’s entire population. He has been called the greatest evangelist in history, save for Paul.

The Lord said: “… I chose you to speak for me to the nations.” I replied, “I’m not a good speaker, Lord, and I’m too young.” “Don’t say you’re too young,” the Lord answered. “If I tell you to go and speak to someone, then go!” (Jeremiah 1:4-7a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 10.

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