George Whitefield’s Last Sermon

Rev. Tony Cooke

Following 34 years of ministry, George Whitefield (1714-1770) preached his final outdoor sermon on Saturday, September 29, 1770 in Exeter, NH. Today, a simple monument marks the location.

Though failing in health, he climbed up on a make-shift platform made from boards laid across two barrels and preached for two hours. His primary message for 34 years had been “The New Birth,” and among his closing words in his final message… “Works! works! A man gets to heaven by works! I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand.”  

In addition to visiting the Exeter marker recently, I also was privileged to visit the church that was essentially Whitefield’s “home base” when he was in New England —The Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, MA. After preaching in Exeter, Whitefield traveled by horseback to Newburyport where he was scheduled to preach the next morning, however he died in the early hours that Sunday.

Born in England, Whitefield made seven trips to America (Each of his thirteen transatlantic trips took between eight and ten weeks). In his lifetime, Whitefield preached at least 18,000 times. He addressed perhaps 10,000,000 hearers. In a single week he often preached a dozen times or more and spent 40 or 50 hours in the pulpit. Whitefield’s farewell sermon on Boston Common drew 23,000 people—more than Boston’s entire population. 

According to his wishes, Whitefield was buried under the pulpit in this church. He had been rejected by vast numbers of churches (which is why he usually preached outdoors — and reached much larger crowds than could have fit in churches), but this was a church that always welcomed him and was always open to him.