Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

  • Changes may include paragraph divisions, highlights, spelling updates, bracketed annotations, & elisions (marked by ellipses . . . )

Sermon Selections of

George Whitefield

George Whitefield, 1714-1770

George Whitefield was a famous traveling preacher who strongly influenced the First and Second Great Awakenings in England and North America.

Among Whitefield's innovations was outdoor preaching, which removed religion from institutional practices and structures, and relocated religion to a less formal, less structured, more individualistic field. A particular American development of outdoor preaching was the camp meeting.

Questions for discussion:

1. After the secularism of the Founding Fathers, the Second Great Awakening re-energized popular evangelical Christianity in the USA. How is Whitefield's sermon potentially Romantic? Where does it connect with sentimental, domestic, or other Romantic literature?

2. What literary qualities or styles are evident? How do these qualities comport with Enlightenment or Romantic forms or styles?

3. During the 1700s and early 1800s, as the Enlightenment and Romanticism led society to a more secular or natural worldview, how does religion change and adapt? If church and state are distinct, where does Christianity establish itself?

4. How has evangelical Christianity changed since? Aside from some old-fashioned phrasing, are Whitefield's ideas or themes familiar even now? (Purpose: Romanticism as popular-culture base?)

For those inclined to see the great World Religions (Judeo-Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) as patriarchal or male-centered, note the persistent description of the head of the household as masculine and as "master."

Patriarchy implies hierarchy: in contrast to the egalitarian and individualistic motions of modern society, note the repeated responsibilities between generations more common to a traditional society.

See Two Main Divisions of American Religion.

Religion or spirituality stretches to and interfaces with so many dimensions of existence that no single statement or framework about any religion is ever completely true in all cases, but that's not a reason to stop discussing.

Whitefield preached on many topics; these sermons are selected and excerpted to represent interests or appeals of religion as it became deinstitutionalized, more informal, more individually focused--even when it turns into "mass evangelism." (Compare to Romantic theme of "the individual among the masses.")

Popular art depicting Whitefield's outdoor sermons, predecessors of "camp meetings"
that became popular in the Second Great Awakening.

The Great Duty Of Family Religion
George Whitefield

Joshua 24:15 "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

[1.1] These words contain the holy resolution of pious Joshua, who having in a most moving, affectionate discourse recounted to the Israelites what great things God had done for them, in the verse immediately preceding the text, comes to draw a proper inference from what he had been delivering; and acquaints them, in the most pressing terms, that since God had been so exceeding gracious unto them, they could do not less, than out of gratitude for such uncommon favors and mercies, dedicate both themselves and families to his service. "Now therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth, and put away the Gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood." . . . But then, that they might not excuse themselves (as too many might be apt to do) by his giving them a bad example, or think he was laying heavy burdens upon them, whilst he himself touched them not with one of his fingers, he tells them in the text, that whatever regard they might pay to the doctrine he had been preaching, yet he (as all ministers ought to do) was resolved to live up to and practice it himself: "Choose you therefore, whom you will serve, whether the Gods which your fathers served, or the Gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

[1.2] A resolution this, worthy of Joshua, and no less becoming, no less necessary for every true son of Joshua, that is entrusted with the care and government of a family in our day: and, if it was ever seasonable for ministers to preach up, or people to put in practice family-religion, it was never more so than in the present age; since it is greatly to be feared, that out of those many households that call themselves Christians, there are but few that serve God in their respective families as they ought.

[1.3] It is true indeed, visit our churches, and you may perhaps see something of the form of godliness still subsisting amongst us; but even that is scarcely to be met with in private houses. . . .

[1.4] How such a general neglect of family-religion first began to overspread the Christian world, is difficult to determine. As for the *primitive [early, original] Christians, I am positive it was not so with them . . .  [;] St. Paul often styles their house a church: "Salute such a one, says he, and the church which is in his house." And, I believe, we must for ever despair of seeing a primitive spirit of piety revived in the world, till we are so happy as to see a revival of primitive family religion; and persons unanimously resolving with good old Joshua, in the words of the text, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." . . . [*reference to the "Apostolic generation" of the first generation of Christ's disciples as a "primitive" or original model for the Church is persistent in Evangelical Christianity. Millennial expectations of Christ's imminent return (as expected by the first generation of Christians) often comes with the package. See also a similar reference concerning the Pilgrims in William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation (1600s), 1.1: "the churches of God revert to their ancient purity, and recover their primitive order, liberty, and beauty."]

[1.5] 3. But it is time for me to hasten to the third and last means I shall recommend, whereby every governor ought with his household to serve the Lord, CATECHIZING AND INSTRUCTING their children and servants, and bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. [catechism = instruction in principles of Christian religion, in form of question and answer (OED)]

[1.6] That this, as well as the two former, is a duty incumbent on every governor of an house, appears from that famous encomium or commendation God gives of Abraham: "I know that he will command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." . . . And if servants and children were to be instructed in the nature of Jewish rites, much more ought they now to be initiated and grounded in the doctrines and first principles of the gospel of Christ: not only, because it is a revelation, which has brought life and immortality to a fuller and clearer light, but also, because many seducers are gone abroad into the world, who do their utmost endeavor to destroy not only the superstructure, but likewise to sap the very foundation of our most holy religion. [cf. Cotton Mather in Wonders of the Invisible World [5] describing proto-gothic conspiracy behind Salem Witch Trials]

[1.7] Would then the present generation have their posterity be true lovers and honorers of God; masters and parents must take Solomon's good advice, and train up and catechize their respective households in the way wherein they should go. . . .

[1.8] Did Christianity, indeed, give any countenance to children and servants to disregard their parents and masters according to the flesh, or represent their duty to them, as inconsistent with their entire obedience to their father and master who is in heaven, there might then be some pretense to neglect instructing them in the principles of such a religion. But since the precepts of this pure and undefiled religion, are all of them holy, just, and good; and the more they are taught their duty to God, the better they will perform their duties to you; methinks, to neglect the improvement of their souls, out of a dread of spending too much time in religious duties, is acting quite contrary to your own interest as well as duty.

[1.9] 5. Fifthly and Lastly, If neither gratitude to God, love to your children, common justice to your servants, nor even that most prevailing motive self-interest, will excite; yet let a consideration of the terrors of the Lord persuade you to put in practice the pious resolution in the text. Remember, the time will come, and that perhaps very shortly, when we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; where we must give a solemn and strict account how we have had our conversation, in our respective families in this world. How will you endure to see your children and servants (who ought to be your joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ) coming out as so many swift witnesses against you; cursing the father that begot them, the womb that bare them, the paps which they have sucked, and the day they ever entered into your houses? Think you not, the damnation which men must endure for their own sins, will be sufficient, that they need load themselves with the additional guilt of being accessory to the damnation of others also? O consider this, all ye that forget to serve the Lord with your respective households, "lest he pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you!" [Psalms 50:22]

[1.10] But God forbid, brethren, that any such evil should befall you: no, rather will I hope, that you have been in some measure convinced by what has been said of the great importance of FAMILY-RELIGION; and therefore are ready to cry out in the words immediately following the text, "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord;" and again, ver. 21, "Nay, but we will (with our several households) serve the Lord."

[1.11] And that there may be always such a heart in you, let me exhort all governors of families, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, often to reflect on the inestimable worth of their own souls, and the infinite ransom, even the precious blood of Jesus Christ, which has been paid down for them. Remember, I beseech you to remember, that you are fallen creatures; that you are by nature lost and estranged from God; and that you can never be restored to your primitive* [original] happiness, till by being born again of the Holy Ghost, you arrive at your primitive* state of purity, have the image of God restamped upon your souls, and are thereby made meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light. Do, I say, but seriously and frequently reflect on, and act as persons that believe such important truths, and you will no more neglect your family's spiritual welfare than your own. No, the love of God, which will then be shed abroad in your hearts, will constrain you to do your utmost to preserve them: and the deep sense of God's free grace in Christ Jesus, (which you will then have) in calling you, will excite you to do your utmost to save others, especially those of your own household. And though, after all your pious endeavors, some may continue unreformed; yet you will have this comfortable reflection to make, that you did what you could to make your families religious: and therefore may rest assured of sitting down in the kingdom of heaven, with Abraham, Joshua, and Cornelius, and all the godly householders, who in their several generations shone forth as so many lights in their respective households upon earth. Amen.

[*Whitefield's emphasis on the *primitive may signify as

  • a return to the purity and closeness to God that were true for Adam and Eve before the fall; for Romantics, this state duplicates in the glorification of childhood innocence and closeness to nature before falling into compromised maturity;

  • a return to the Apostolic Era of the first generation of Disciples after Christ's incarnation; Evangelical Churches, the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, and many other American Christian communities try to duplicate the Apostolic era, particularly in the experience of being born again in the Holy Spirit (as in the Disciples' Pentecost) and the expectation of Christ's imminent return (as in the Millennium or Apocalypse).]


What Think Ye Of Christ?
George Whitefield

Matthew 22:42, "What think ye of Christ?"

[2.1] When it pleased the eternal Son of God to tabernacle among us, and preach the glad tidings of salvation to a fallen world, different opinions were entertained by different parties concerning him. As to his person, some said he was Moses; others that he was Elias, Jeremias, or one of the ancient prophets; few acknowledged him to be what he really was, God blessed for evermore. And as to his doctrine, though the common people, being free from prejudice, were persuaded of the heavenly tendency of his going about to do good, and for the generality, heard him gladly, and said he was a good man; yet the envious, worldly-minded, self-righteous governors and teachers of the Jewish church, being grieved at his success on the one hand, and unable (having never been taught of God) to understand the purity of his doctrine, on the other; notwithstanding our Lord spake as never man spake, and did such miracles which no man could possibly do, unless God was with him; yet they not only were so infatuated ["possessed with an extravagantly foolish passion"--OED], as to say, that he deceived the people; but also were so blasphemous as to affirm, that he was in league with the devil himself, and cast out devils by Beeluzbul, the prince of devils. Nay, our Lord's own brethren and kinsmen, according to the flesh, were so blinded by prejudices and unbelief, that on a certain day; when he went out to teach the multitudes in the fields, they sent to take hold of him, urging this as a reason for their conduct, "That he was besides himself."  [Mark 3 : 20: And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.]

[2.2] Thus was the King and the Lord of glory judged by man's judgment, when manifest in flesh: far be it from any of his ministers to expect better treatment. No, if we come in the spirit and power of our Master, in this, as in every other part of his sufferings, we must follow his steps. The like reproaches which were cast on him, will be thrown on us also. Those that received our Lord and his doctrine, will receive and hear us for his name's sake. The poor, blessed be God, as our present meeting abundantly testifies, receive the gospel, and the common people hear us gladly; whilst those who are sitting in Moses' chair, and love to wear long robes, being ignorant of the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and having never felt the power of God upon their hearts, will be continually crying our against us, as madmen, deceivers of the people, and as acting under the influence of evil spirits. [Romantic hero as outsider, rebel]

[2.3] But he is unworthy the name of a minister of the gospel of peace, who is unwilling, not only to have his name cast out as evil, but also to die for the truths of the Lord Jesus. It is the character of hirelings and false prophets, who care not for the sheep, to have all men speak well of them. "Blessed are you, (says our Lord to his first apostles, and in them to all succeeding ministers) when men speak all manner of evil against you falsely for my name's sake." . . .

[2.4] Some, and I fear a multitude which no man can easily number, there are amongst us, who call themselves Christians, and yet seldom or never seriously think of Jesus Christ at all. They can think of their shops and their farms, their plays, their balls, their assemblies, and horse-races (entertainments which directly tend to exclude religion out of the world); but as for Christ, the author and finisher of faith, the Lord who has bought poor sinners with his precious blood, and who is the only thing worth thinking of, alas! he is not in all, or at most in very few of their thoughts. . . .

[2.5] But I must not purpose these reflections: they would carry me too far from the main design of this discourse, which is to show, what those who are truly desirous to know how to worship God in spirit and in truth, ought to think concerning Jesus Christ, whom God hath sent to be the end of the law for righteousness to all them that shall believe. . . .

[2.6]  . . . I think it no breach of charity to affirm, that an Arian or Socinian cannot be a Christian. [Arians & Socinians were two Christian sects denying the godhood of Christ or the Trinity] The one would make us believe Jesus Christ is only a created God, which is a self-contradiction: and the other would have us look on him only as a good man; and instead of owning his death to be an atonement for the sins of the world, would persuade us, that Christ died only to seal the truth of hid doctrine with his blood. But if Jesus Christ be no more than a mere man, if he be not truly God, he was the vilest sinner that ever appeared in the world.  . . . [contrast choice b/w savior or sinner and deistic regard of Christ as great moral teacher and exemplar]

[2.7]  . . . FOURTHLY and LASTLY, What think you of Jesus Christ being formed within you? For whom Christ justifies, them he also sanctifies. Although he finds, yet he does not leave us unholy. A true Christian may not so properly be said to live, as Jesus Christ to live in him. For they only that are led by the Spirit of Christ, are the true sons of God.

[2.8] As I observed before, so I tell you again, the faith which we preach is not a dead, but a lively active faith wrought in the soul, working a thorough change, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the whole man . . .

[2.9] This is a great mystery; but I speak of Christ and the new-birth*. Marvel not at my asking you, what you think about Christ being formed within you? For either God must change his nature, or we ours. For as in Adam we all have spiritually died, so all that are effectually saved by Christ, must in Christ be spiritually made alive. His only end in and rising again, and interceding for us now in heaven, is to redeem us from the misery of our fallen nature, and, by the operation of his blessed Spirit, to make us meet to be partakers of the heavenly inheritance with the saints in light. None but those that thus are changed by his grace here, shall appear with him in glory hereafter. . . . .  [*"new-birth" obviously relates to being "born again," but also compare to Emerson, Nature 8, 10-11]

[2.10] O my brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you. I trust I feel something of that hidden, but powerful presence of Christ, whilst I am preaching to you. Indeed it is sweet, it is exceedingly comfortable. All the harm I wish you, who without cause are my enemies, is, that you felt the like. Believe me, though it would be hell to my soul, to return to a natural state again, yet I would willingly change status with you for a little while, that you might know what it is to have Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith. Do not turn your backs; do not let the devil hurry you away; be not afraid of convictions; do not think worse of the doctrine, because preached without the church walls. Our Lord, in the days of his flesh, preached on a mount, in a ship, and a field; and I am persuaded, many have felt his gracious presence here. Indeed we speak what we know.  . . . I am persuaded I seem to some of you as one that mocketh: but I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not; as sure as fire and brimstone was rained from the Lord out of heaven, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, so surely, at the great day, shall the vials of God's wrath be poured on you. [millennialism] If you do not think seriously of, and act agreeable to the gospel of the Lord's Christ. Behold, I have told you before; and I pray God, all you that forget him may seriously think of what has been said, before he pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you. . . .

[2.11] Now to God the Father, &c. [final benediction]

Marks Of Having Received The Holy Ghost
George Whitefield

Acts 19:2 "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"

[3.1]  . . .
FIRST, I am to show who the Holy Ghost spoken of in the text, is; and that we must all receive him before we can be stiled true believers.

[3.2] By the Holy Ghost is plainly signified the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, proceeding from, yet equal to them both. He is emphatically called Holy, because infinitely holy in himself, and the author and finisher of all holiness in us.

[3.3] This blessed Spirit, who once moved on the face of the great deep; who over-shadowed the blessed Virgin before that holy child was born of her; who descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, on our blessed Lord, when he came up out of the water at his baptism; and afterwards came down in fiery tongues on the heads of all his Apostles at the day of Pentecost: this is the Holy Ghost, who must move on the faces of our souls; this power of the Most High, must come upon us, and we must be baptized with his baptism and refining fire, before we can be stiled true members of Christ's mystical body. . . .

[3.4] For this stands the case between God and man: God at first made man upright, or as the sacred Penman [Moses? first inscriber of scripture?] expresses it, "In the image of God made he man;" that is, his soul was the very copy, the transcript of the divine nature. . . .

[3.5] Happy, unspeakably happy must man needs be, when thus a partaker of the divine nature. [cf. Emerson, Nature 13: "I am part or particle of God."] And thus might he have still continued, had he continued holy. But God placed him in a state of probation, with a free grant to eat of every tree in the garden of Eden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil . . . But man, unhappy man, being seduced by the devil, and desiring, like him, to be equal with his Maker, did eat of the forbidden fruit; and thereby became liable to that curse, which the eternal God, who cannot lie, had denounced against his disobedience. . . . Alas! he was now no longer the image of the invisible God; but as he had imitated the devil's sin, he became as it were a partaker of the devil's nature, and from an union with, sunk into a state of direct enmity against God.

[3.6] Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we are told, "That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;" or, with the same corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in such a state, to hold communion with God. For as light cannot have communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted sons of Belial. [prince of hell & demon in Jewish scriptures, Bible, Apocrypha]

[3.7] Here then appears the end and design why Christ was manifest in the flesh; to put an end to these disorders, and to restore us to that primitive dignity in which we were at first created. Accordingly he shed his precious blood to satisfy his Father's justice for our sins; and thereby also he procured for us the Holy Ghost, who should once more re-instamp the divine image upon our hearts, and make us capable of living with and enjoying the blessed God.

[3.8] This was the great end of our Lord's coming into the world; nay, this is the only end why the world itself is now kept in being. For as soon as a sufficient number are sanctified out of it, the heavens shall be wrapped up like a scroll, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth, and all that therein is, shall be burnt up. [Millennium, apocalypse]

[3.9] This sanctification of the Spirit, is that new birth mentioned by our blessed Lord to Nicodemus, "without which we cannot see the kingdom of God." This is what St. Paul calls being "renewed in the spirit of our minds;" and it is the spring of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. . . .

[3.10] A THIRD mark whereby we may know, whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost, is, Our conquest over the world. . . . an unconverted man being of the earth, is earthy; and having no spiritual eye to discern spiritual things, he is always seeking for happiness in this life, where it never was, will, or can be found. Being not born again from above, he is bowed down by a spirit of natural infirmity: the serpent's curse becomes his choice, and he eats of the dust of the earth all the days of his life. A

[3.11] FOURTH scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost, is, Our loving one another.

[3.12] "We know (says St. John) we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." "And by this (says Christ himself) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another." Love is the fulfilling of the gospel, as well as of the law: for "God is love; and whosoever dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God."

[3.13] But by this love we are not to understand a softness and tenderness of mere nature, or a love founded on worldly motives (for this a natural man may have); but a love of our brethren, proceeding from love towards God [cf. Puritan covenant]: loving all men in general, because to their relation to God; and loving good men in particular, for the grace we see in them, and because they love our Lord Jesus in sincerity.

[3.14] This is Christian charity, and that new commandment which Christ gave to his disciples. NEW, not in its object, but in the motive and example whereon it is founded, even Jesus Christ. This is that love which the primitive Christians were so renowned for, that it became a proverb, SEE HOW THESE CHRISTIANS LOVE ONE ANOTHER. And without this love, though we should give all our goods to feed the poor, and our bodies to be burnt, it would profit us nothing. . . .

[3.15] FIFTH scripture mark, Loving our enemies.

[3.16] "I say unto you, (says Jesus Christ) Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those that hate you, ad pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." And this duty of loving your enemies is so necessary, that without it, our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or even of Publicans and sinners . . . .

[3.17] The nature of the old Adam still reigneth in your souls; and unless the nature of the second Adam [Christ; see 1 Corinthians 15:45] be grafted in its room, you can never see God.

[3.18] Think not, therefore, to dress yourselves up in the ornaments of a good nature, and civil education . . . . However you may be highly esteemed in the sight of men, yet, in the sight of God, you are but like the apples of Sodom, dunghills covered over with snow, mere whited sepulchers, appearing a little beautiful without, but inwardly full of corruption and of all uncleanness: and consequently will be dismissed at the last day with a "Verily, I know you not." [Romanticism validates common man close to nature]

[3.19] But the word of God is profitable for comfort as well as correction. . . .

[3.20] FOURTHLY and LASTLY, I address myself to those who have received the Holy Ghost in all his sanctifying graces, and are almost ripe for glory.

[3.21] Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ's yoke is not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob's ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father which is in heaven.

[3.22] I need not exhort you to press forward, for you know that in walking in the Spirit there is a great reward. [<cf. romance narrative?] Rather will I exhort you, in patience to possess your souls yet a little while, and Jesus Christ will deliver you from the burden of the flesh, and an abundant entrance shall be administered to you, into the eternal joy and uninterrupted felicity of his heavenly kingdom.

[3.23] Which God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord: To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, be ascribed all honor, power, and glory, for ever and ever.