Sunday, December 25, 2005

Whitefield's journey to America

In a previous post, I blogged about our family trip to Savannah and our outing to Bethesda to see the orphanage that George Whitefield founded back in the 1740’s. In this post, I’d like to back up some and tell about Whitefield’s initial trip to America in 1738. I found it quite fascinating.

Ironically, Whitefield left England for Georgia from the port city of Deal just as Jonathan Wesley was returning from Georgia through the same port. Wesley, whose goal was to convert the American Indians as a missionary, came back from Georgia as a failure and actually counseled Whitefield not to go. Wesley though, however outwardly pious he may have seemed, was not saved. He wrote in his journal about his experience, “What have I learned? Why, what I the least of all suspected, that I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.” Obviously, Wesley’s spiritual state had much to do with his failures and Whitefield was not to be deterred. He, along with about 120 others (mostly soldiers), boarded the Whitaker and set sail for America. Two other vessels, the Amy and the Lightfoot, accompanied them on their way to Gibraltar and then across the Atlantic to Georgia.

Whitefield desired to preach the gospel to those on his ship but he was met, initially, with severe opposition. The soldiers considered him “an imposter” and disrespected him by swearing and card playing, even on the Lord’s Day. Despite these challenges, Whitefield began to visit the sick, befriend the crew, and say public prayers. He determined to work the gospel into his daily conversions. Eventually, he started catechism classes and soon won the favor of the ship’s captain. Quoting Dallimore:
"The next step was taken by Captain Whiting. Affected by the work of the Gospel on his own heart, and concerned now for the spiritual welfare of his men, he ordered that chairs be set out on the deck and planks placed across them for the soldiers and passengers to sit on during the services. Thus the deck of the Whitaker became a sort of floating chapel and, since Whitefield says that he ‘arranged to meet with any soldiers who could sing by note, to join in Divine Psalmody every day’, we can but wonder whether he intended to supply it with a male choir.”

After spending two weeks in port at Gibraltar, the three ships commenced their journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The gospel influence that began on the first leg of the voyage really began to take hold on the second leg. Quoting Dallimore again:

“As the journey continued the effects of the Gospel became increasingly evident.

By this time the Captains made it their practice to stand, one on each side of Whitefield as he preached, and Captain Mackay ordered a drum to beat, calling the soldiers to Divine service every morning. Moreover, there were occasions when the other vessels heard him, too, ‘for being in the trade winds, the other two ship’s companies drew near and joined in the worship of God.’

What a sight this must have been! The calm sea, the three vessels clustered together, the crowded decks ablaze with the red coats of the soldiers, and one deck serving as an open-air chapel, replete with make-shift benches and, possibly, a male choir. Before them stands the young chaplain, a Captain on each side and officers round about. In a voice which can be clearly heard on each of the three vessels, he leads a service which includes the singing of Psalms and the prayers of the Church of England liturgy. Many who recently cursed God now join in the words of petition and praise."

What a sight indeed!

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home