Sermon from a Tombstone
May 13
In a letter to Lady Huntingdon in 1768, Henry Venn, close friend of evangelist George Whitefield, described a typical Whitefield meeting. The evangelist had preached from this text while standing on a tombstone in the churchyard of Cheltenham Parish Church, permission being denied him to preach in the church. Venn wrote:
To give your ladyship any just description of what our eyes witnessed and our hearts felt within the last few days at Cheltenham, exceeds my feeble powers. My inmost soul is penetrated with an overwhelming sense of the power and presence of Jehovah who has visited us with an effusion of His Spirit in a very eminent manner. There was a visible appearance of much soul-concern among the crowd that filled every part of the burial ground. Many were overcome with fainting; others sobbed deeply; some wept silently; and a solemn concern appeared on the countenance of almost the whole assembly. But when he pressed the injunction of his text, Isaiah 55:1, on the unconverted and ungodly, his words seemed to act like a sword, and many burst out into piercing cries. At this juncture, Mr. Whitefield made an awful pause of a few seconds, and he wept himself. During the interval, Mr. Madan and myself stood up and requested the people, as much as possible, to restrain themselves from making a noise. Oh, with what eloquence, what energy, what melting tenderness, did Mr. Whitefield beseech sinners to be reconciled to God, to come to Him for life everlasting, and to rest their weary souls on Christ the Savior! When the sermon was ended the people seemed chained to the ground. Mr. Madan and myself found ample employment trying to comfort those who seemed broken down under a sense of guilt. We separated in different directions among the crowd, and each was quickly surrounded by an attentive audience still eager to hear all the words of life.