A Report on Whitefield in New York: The New England Weekly Journal, 1739

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This article in The New England Weekly Journal, a newspaper, describes how George Whitefield preached while he was in New York.

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The Rev. Mr. Whitefield arrived at the City of N. York on Wednesday the 14th Inst. A little before Night. The next Morning he waited on the Rev. Mr. Vesey, and desired leave to preach in the English Church, but was refus’d: The Reason assigned for such Refusal was, because Mr. Whitefield had no Licence to Preach in any Parish but that for which he was ordained; and an old Canon was read. To this Mr. Whitefield reply’d, That that Canon was Obsolete, and had not been in Use for above 100 Years, That the whole Body of the Clergy, frequently preach out of the Bounds of their Parishes, without such Licence. These Arguments not prevailing, some Application was made to the Rev. Mr. Boel, for the Use of the New Dutch Church, but this also was refus’d. Then Mr. Whitefield had the offer of the Presbyterian Church, but did not care at first to accept it, not being willing to give any Offence to his Brethren of the Church of England; but said, He chose rather to go without the Camp, bearing his Reproach, and Preach in the Fields. At length being informed, that in some Parts of this Country, the Meeting Houses had been alternately us’d by the Ministers of the several Communions, and very often borrowed by the Church of the Dissenters, he consented to accept the Offer for the Evening. However, in the Afternoon he preached in the Fields to many Hundreds of People.

Among the Hearers, the Person who gives this Account, was one. I fear Curiosity was the Motive that led me and many others into that Assembly. I had read two or three of Mr. Whitefield’s Sermons and part of his Journal, and from thence had obtained a settled Opinion, that he was a Good Man. Thus far was I prejudiced in his Favour. But then having heard of much Opposition, and many Clamours against him, I tho’t it possible that he might have carried Matters too far—That some Enthusiasm might have mix’d itself with his Piety, and that his Zeal might have exceeded his Knowledge. With these Prepossessions I went into the Fields; when I came there, I saw a great Number of People consisting of Christians of all Denominations, some Jews, and a few, I believe, that had no Religion at all. When Mr. Whitefield came to the Place before designed, which was a little Eminence on the side of a Hill, he stood still, and beckoned with his Hand, and dispos’d the Multitude upon the Descent, before, and on each side of him. He then prayed most excellently, in the same manner (I guess) that the first Ministers of the Christian Church prayed, before they were shackled with Forms. The Assembly soon appeared to be divided into two Companies, the one of which I considered under the Name of GOD’s Church, and the other the Devil’s Chappel. The first were collected round the Minister, and were very serious and attentive. The last had placed themselves in the skirts of the Assembly, and spent most of their Time in Giggling, Scoffing, Talking and Laughing. I believe the Minister saw them, for in his Sermon, observing the Cowardice and Shamefacedness of Christians in Christ’s Cause, he pointed towards this Assembly, and reproached the former with the boldness and Zeal with which the Devil’s Vassals serve him. Towards the last Prayer, the whole Assembly appeared more united, and all became hush’d and still; a solemn Awe and Reverence appeared in the Faces of most, a mighty Energy attended the Word. I heard and felt something astonishing and surprizing, but I confess; I was not at that Time fully rid of my Scruples. But as I tho’t I saw a visible Presence of GOD with Mr. Whitefield, I kept my Doubts to my self.

Under this Frame of Mind, I went to hear him in the Evening at the Presbyterian Church, where he Expounded to above 2000 People within and without Doors. I never in my Life saw so attentive an Audience: Mr. Whitefield spake as one having Authority: All he said was Demonstration, Life and Power! The Peoples Eyes and Ears hung on his Lips. They greedily devour’d every Word. I came Home astonished! Every Scruple vanished. I never saw nor heard the like, and I said within my self, Surely God is with this Man of a Truth. He preach’d and expounded in this manner twice every Day for four Days, and this Evening Assemblies were continually increasing. On Sunday Morning at 8 o’Clock, this Congregation consisted of about 1500 people: But at Night several Thousands came together to hear him, and the Place being too strait for them, many were forced to go away, and some (tis said) with Tears lamented their Disappointment.

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