Revival and the Ministry of George Whitefield
George Whitefield (1714-71), known widely as "The Grand Itinerant", arrived in the fall of 1740 and "set all New England aflame with a revival compared to which the Valley awakening of 1734-35 was but a brush fire" (C. C. Goen, Works of JE, 4:48).
After preaching to thousands all along the Atlantic coast, Whitefield arrived in Edwards' Northampton in mid October. After one Sunday morning sermon in Edwards' church, Whitefield wrote in his diary that "Good Mr. Edwards wept during the whole time of exercise. The people were equally affected; and, in the afternoon, the power increased yet more" (Goen, 49).
Sarah Edwards was equally impressed. In a letter to her brother, the Rev. James Pierrepont of New Haven, she said:
"It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upward of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob. He impresses the ignorant, and not less the educated and refined . . . our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected. . . . Many, very many persons in Northampton date the beginning of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes and a new life, from the day they heard him preach of Christ" (Dallimore, pp. 89-90).
Benjamin Franklin, who, although an unbeliever, regarded Whitefield to be his friend, said this of his oratorical gift:
"He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories observed the most perfect silence. . . . By hearing him often, I came to distinguish easily between sermons newly composed and those which he had often preached in the course of his travels. His delivery of the latter was so improved by frequent repetition, that every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of the voice, was so perfectly well turned and well placed, that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse" (Gaustad, 29).