A Sweet Solemnity: The Preaching of George Whitefield

By Dustin W. Benge

Next year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great evangelist, George Whitefield (1714–1770). There will be several conferences held in his honor and books written about his life and legacy. I have recently re-aquatinted myself with Whitefield and found a man all ministers need to emulate in many areas. One of the great sources for learning about George Whitefield are from the countless eyewitness accounts given of his ministry.

On the morning of October 23, 1740, in a field of Kensington Parish (near Berlin, Connecticut), Nathan Cole unexpectedly receives the news that the great evangelist George Whitefield would be preaching in the nearby city of Middleton. He immediately dropped his farming tools and ran to his house, hastily grabbing his wife, and rushing to the announced site of Whitefield’s meeting. Saddling his horse, Cole and his wife alternated between riding and running to Middleton for he simply must be present to hear this celebrated preacher about whom he had heard so much.

Still quite a distance from the city, Cole and his wife observed the hillsides being covered in what seemed to be a great fog. As they came closer to the venue, they discovered the fog was in fact the dust cloud from the road as a flood of people descended upon Middleton with horses and carriages. Eager to hear Whitefield preach, 3,000 to 4,000 people had already assembled at the old meeting house. Cole admitted, “When I saw Mr. Whitefield come up upon the scaffold, he looked almost angelic.” He described Whitefield as “a young, slim, slender youth before thousands of people, and with bold undaunted countenance.” The buzz among the great crowd was “God was with him everywhere.”

As Whitefield began to preach, Cole sensed a great fear fall over him. The young preacher “looked as if he was clothed with authority from the great God” as the preaching of the Word fell with great power upon Cole’s wayward heart. “A sweet solemnity sat upon his brow,” Cole testified, “and my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God’s blessing, my old foundation was broken up and I saw my righteousness would not save me.”[1] The full force of Whitefield’s penetrating preaching proved to be irresistible. Cole would harken back to this day and the effect of the Word of God upon his heart after he was born again a full two years later.

[1] Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival, Vol I (1970, repr.; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 540-541.


Dustin W. Benge (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Associate Pastor and Pastor for Family Ministries at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, AL. Dustin is a junior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center and lives with his wife, Molli, in Mobile.