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George Whitefield, the Gospel, and Orphans

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 12, 2009

In 1740 George Whitefield was preaching the gospel in Savannah, Georgia.  Almost every time he preached he took up offerings for Georgia’s orphans.  Here’s some of what Whitefield collected in October, 1740:*

  • October 3—Whitefield preached at Portsmouth and took an offering for orphans amounting to 97 pounds (about $16,985 USD today);
  • Later that day he preached in Hampstead and took an offering for orphans amounting to 41 pounds (about $7,187 USD today);
  • October 4—Whitefield preached at Newbury and took an offering for orphans amounting to 80 pounds (about $14,008 USD today)
  • Later that day he preached in Ipswich and took an offering for orphans amounting to 79 pounds (about $13,832 USD today);
  • October 5—Whitefield preached at Salem and took an offering for orphans amounting to 72 pounds (about $12,607 USD today);
  • October 6—Whitefield preached at Marblehead and an offering for orphans totaled 70 pounds (about $12,255 USD today);
  • October 9—Whitefield preached at Maulden and took an offering for orphans amounting to 200 pounds (about $35,010 USD today);
  • October 10—Whitefield preached at Charleston and took an offering for orphans amounting to 156 pounds (about $27,302 USD today);
  • Later that day he preached again and took an offering for orphans amounting to 51 pounds (about $8,924 USD today);
  • October 11—Whitefield preached at Cambridge and took an offering for orphans amounting to 100 pounds (about $17,505 USD today);
  • October 13—Whitefield preached at Concord and took an offering for orphans amounting to 45 pounds (about $7,873 USD today).

From October 3 to October 13 George Whitefield collected over $173,000 for Georgia’s orphans.  As I thought about that amazing amount, I found myself wondering what motivated these people to be so generous with their money for the good of orphans.  Let me venture a guess—a good one, I hope.  

According to John Piper, one of George Whitefield’s most frequently preached sermons was entitled “The Lord Our Righteousness.”** It is a sermon that’s bursting forth with the good news of the gospel—and nothing motivates generous giving like the gospel’s good news. Here’s an example:

“Was this ever the language of your hearts? And, after these inward conflicts, were you ever enabled to reach out the arm of faith, and embrace the blessed Jesus in your souls, so that you could say, ‘my beloved is mine, and I am his?’ If so, fear not, whoever you are. Hail, all hail, you happy souls! The Lord, the Lord Christ, the everlasting God, is your righteousness. Christ has justified you, who is he that condemneth you? Christ has died for you, nay rather is risen again, and ever liveth to make intercession for you. Being now justified by his grace, you have peace with God, and shall, ere long, be with Jesus in glory, reaping everlasting and unspeakable fruits both in body and soul. For there is no condemnation to those that are really in Christ Jesus. Whether Paul or Apollos, or life or death, all is yours if you are Christ’s, for Christ is God’s. My brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you! O think of the love of Christ in dying for you! If the Lord be your righteousness, let the righteousness of your Lord be continually in your mouth. Talk of, O talk of, and recommend the righteousness of Christ, when you lie down, and when you rise up, at your going out and coming in! Think of the greatness of the gift, as well as the giver! Show to all the world, in whom you have believed! Let all by your fruits know, that the Lord is your righteousness, and that you are waiting for your Lord from heaven!”

It’s my guess that George Whitefield was able to collect over $173,000 for Georgia’s orphans in just 11 days of preaching because people were motivated to give by the hope-giving power and beauty of gospel-rich paragraphs like the one above. When Christians are moved deeply by the greatness of God’s gracious gift of righteousness to them, they will consider it their great joy to give generously to those in need.

If there is anything that can free us from the love of money so that we give generously towards the needs of orphans, it is the incomparable good news of the gospel. What’s money when we have the wealth and security of the righteousness of Jesus?
*All the information quoted in the bullet points was taken from Be a Hero: A Battle for Mercy and Social Justice.
**Scott Anderson (Director of Events at Desiring God) made me aware of this sermon and the excerpt quoted from it.

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  • Carole Turner

    Good Stuff!

  • Pingback: George Whitefield, the Gospel, and Orphans « Gloria Filiorum Patres

  • Gordondenler

    Sometime there can be more than one thing that motivate People – The Good News is most likely the major one.

    It seems from historical accounts there must have been another factor as well. It would be very interesting to know what this was. Perhaps the spirit of God softening Men’s hearts through Whitfield?

    Benjamin Franklin was a very good and loyal Friend of George Whitfield to Whitfield’s death. He wrote about this topic. He said that he was one of the the contributors. Benjamin Franklin as far as I can tell did not believe in the Good News so there must have been another factor.

    Below are Franklin’s own words out of chapter 10 of his autobiography about this topic.

    Mr. Whitefield, in leaving us, went preaching all the way thro’ the colonies to Georgia. The settlement of that province had lately been begun, but, instead of being made with hardy, industrious husbandmen, accustomed to labor, the only people fit for such an enterprise, it was with families of broken shop-keepers and other insolvent debtors, many of indolent and idle habits, taken out of the jails, who, being set down in the woods, unqualified for clearing land, and unable to endure the hardships of a new settlement, perished in numbers, leaving many helpless children unprovided for.

    The sight of their miserable situation inspir’d the benevolent heart of Mr. Whitefield with the idea of building an Orphan House there, in which they might be supported and educated. Returning northward, he preach’d up this charity, and made large collections, for his eloquence had a wonderful power over the hearts and purses of his hearers, of which I myself was an instance.

    I did not disapprove of the design, but, as Georgia was then destitute of materials and workmen, and it was proposed to send them from Philadelphia at a great expense, I thought it would have been better to have built the house here, and brought the children to it. This I advis’d; but he was resolute in his first project, rejected my counsel, and I therefore refus’d to contribute.

    I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me, I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d me to give the silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I empty’d my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.

    At this sermon there was also one of our club, who, being of my sentiments respecting the building in Georgia, and suspecting a collection might be intended, had, by precaution, emptied his pockets before he came from home. Towards the conclusion of the discourse, however, he felt a strong desire to give, and apply’d to a neighbour, who stood near him, to borrow some money for the purpose. The application was unfortunately [made] to perhaps the only man in the company who had the firmness not to be affected by the preacher. His answer was, “At any other time, Friend Hopkinson, I would lend to thee freely; but not now, for thee seems to be out of thy right senses.”

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