(The following is an extract from a letter of George Whitefield, 1714-1770)
For many years, from one end of the large London fair to the other, booths of all kinds have been erected for performers, clowns, players, puppet shows, and such like. With a heart bleeding with compassion for so many thousands led captive by the devil at his will, on the day of the fair, at six o’clock in the morning, I ventured to lift up a standard among them in the name of Jesus.
Perhaps there were about ten thousand people in waiting, not for me—but for Satan’s instruments to amuse them! When I mounted my field-pulpit, almost all flocked immediately around it. I preached on these words, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up!’ They gazed, they listened, they wept; and I believe that many felt themselves stung with deep conviction for their sins. All was hushed and solemn.
Being thus encouraged, I ventured out again at noon. What a scene! The fields, the whole fields were ready for Beelzebub’s harvest! All Satan’s agents were in full motion—drummers, trumpeters, singers, masters of puppet shows, exhibitors of wild animals, players, and so forth, all busy in entertaining their respective audiences. I suppose there could not be less than twenty or thirty thousand people. My pulpit was fixed on the opposite side, and immediately, to their great dismay, they found the number of their attendants sadly lessened.
Judging that like Paul, I would now be called as it were, to fight with beasts at Ephesus, I preached from these words—’Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ You may easily guess that there was some noise among the craftsmen, and that I was ‘honored’ with having a few stones, dirt, rotten eggs, and pieces of dead cats thrown at me, while engaged in
calling them from their favorite, but lying vanities. My soul was indeed among lions—but the greatest part of my congregation, which was very large, seemed for awhile to be turned into lambs.This encouraged me to give notice that I would preach again at six o’clock in the evening. I came, I saw—but what? Thousands and thousands more than before, if possible, still more deeply engaged in their unhappy diversions! One of Satan’s choicest servants was performing, trumpeting on a large stage; but as soon as the people saw me in my pulpit, I think all to a man left him and ran to me. For a while I was enabled to lift up my voice like a trumpet, and many heard the joyful sound.
This Satan could not brook. The enemy’s agents made a kind of roaring at some distance from our camp. At length they approached nearer, and one of the clowns (attended by others, who complained that they had lost much money on account of my preaching,) got up upon a man’s shoulders, and advancing near the pulpit attempted to slash me with a long heavy whip several times—but always tumbled down with the violence of his motion.
Soon afterwards they got a marching band with drums, to pass through the congregation. I ordered that passage might be made for them. The ranks opened, while all marched through, and then closed again. Finding these efforts to fail, a large group assembled together, and having got a large pole with their flag, advanced towards us with steady and formidable steps, until they came very near the skirts of our hearing, praying, and almost undaunted congregation. I prayed to the Captain of our salvation for present support and deliverance. He heard and answered; for just as they approached us with fearful looks—I know not why—they quarreled among themselves, threw down their flag, and went their way—leaving, however, many of their company behind, who before we were done, were brought over to join the besieged party. I think I continued in praying, preaching, and singing, (for the noise was too great at times to preach) for about three hours.
We then retired to the Tabernacle, with pockets full of more than a thousand notes from people brought under concern for their souls, and read them amid the praises and spiritual acclamations of thousands, who joined with the holy angels in rejoicing that, in such an unexpected, unlikely place and manner—so many sinners were snatched out of the very jaws of the devil!