Facing Death, George Whitefield Preached One Last Time

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“Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach,” said Mr. Clarkson, a friend of evangelist George Whitefield. On this day, Saturday, 29 September 1770, Whitefield, worn out from many evangelistic tours and suffering from asthma, was headed for Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he was scheduled to preach in the morning.

“True, Sir,” answered Whitefield, but he turned his eyes upward in prayer. “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 let me come home and die.”

He set out as planned. As he passed through Exeter, a large crowd assembled, pleading with him to give them a sermon. Whitefield had led revival in their town some years earlier. As he sometimes did when too ill to speak, the fifty-five-year old Whitefield remained seated, allowing his friend Rev. Smith to address the crowd.

Just a week earlier, Whitefield had written to a friend in London that he knew “the day of release will shortly come.” In that same letter he aspired to even greater dedication: “O for a warm heart! O to stand fast in the faith, to acquit ourselves like men, and be strong!”

Now he showed what it meant to live by that prayer. Indicating that he would speak, he was helped onto a large barrel. There he stood, shaky and weak. “I will wait for the gracious assistance of God, for He will, I am certain, assist me once more to speak in his name,” he said. Miraculously, it was so. Witnesses said that the Holy Spirit seemed to descend upon him and he grew strong enough to preach for two hours on the text “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” He spoke also of going to Christ.

Afterward, he continued on to Newburyport. Following dinner, he was somewhat stronger. On his way to bed, he acknowledged the request of a small gathering of people and gave a few words of exhortation by candlelight on a stairway.

In his bedroom he read, prayed, and lay down for the night, propped up on pillows to ease his breathing. About two in the morning he woke, having trouble catching his breath. “My asthma is coming on again,” he told Smith, who replied that he wished Whitefield would not preach so often.

“I would rather wear out than rust out,” answered Whitefield. The evangelist then prayed that the Lord would bless the preaching he had already done and what he was about to do. He asked God’s guidance for where he should spend the winter.

He fell back to sleep about three, but an hour later woke again, saying that he was suffocating. By six he was dead. Hundreds of thousands in America and Britain, both of pastors and of laypeople, owed their spiritual awakening to him.