Penitential Tears On A Hillside

By John Shearer

    George Whitefield was the son of an innkeeper in England who figured largely in "The Great Awakening" of the 18th century. When he began to preach, a great gift of eloquence was revealed in him. Soon the complaint was rife that he was driving people mad, and the churches began to close upon him. One day, as he declared the Gospel in a building filled to the uttermost, he cast his eyes outside and saw a thousand yearning and disappointed faces. The thought seized him, Why not go out and preach in the open? But this was a thing unheard of. When he consulted his brethren they condemned it as fanatical notion....

    Thousands were hungering for the Bread of Life, but there was no room in the church for Whitefield to dispense it. He now recognized the clear hand of God. Turning from the barred doors he saw, far out in the fields, the beckoning hand of the Master who had found His pulpit on the green hillsides of Galilee. He obeyed.

    Near Bristol was a wild region known as Kingswood, without a church, inhabited by a rough and lawless people. Whitefield went out to this neglected spot. On Saturday afternoon, February 17, 1739, he took his stand on a little green hill and began to preach the Gospel. In vast amazement some 200 colliers gathered about him. Such a sight had never been seen. A minister in gown and bands, preaching on a hillside!

    As he continued day after day his audience soon grew to twenty thousand, who pressed upon him eagerly to hear the Word of Life. They filled the hedges. They climbed the trees. Nature itself seemed hushed to hear. A sweet summer stillness prevailed. The sun shone from a blue sky, and the strong, clear voice of the young man, eloquent with the very love of God, reached to the utmost bounds of the great assembly.

    Then Whitefield saw a moving sight. He saw white channels forming in the black faces of the miners. The whole multitude was drenched in penitential tears. Ere he ended black faces were washed white, and black hearts, too! He at once wrote to Wesley in London: "Come, the fire is kindled in the country."

    The summons was obeyed, and when John Wesley came and saw the grace of God, he was glad. Whitefield, called to other parts, left him to continue the work, and Wesley entered upon his great career as a field preacher. Henceforth the world was his parish. As he passed from place to place, the fire of God followed him. It traveled to the remotest parts of the country, and crossing the sea, quickened the life of the Church there.

    – From Old Time Revivals.