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George Whitefield Statue

Located in the Quadrangle on The University of Pennsylvania’s Campus, 3451 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

 

On the University of Pennsylvania campus, there is a statue of the leading evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. The University began in a religious meeting house built to house the crowds that came to hear the eloquent and powerful evangelist. The site of this Meeting House is now where the Holiday Inn on 4th Street is found, adjacent to the Philadelphia Mint.

When Whitefield left, the large building was underutilized for no other church or organization could draw such a crowd. As a result, Benjamin Franklin, Whitefield’s evangelistic ministry’s treasurer, proposed that the building be used for a school of higher learning. So the University of Pennsylvania was born under the leadership of Benjamin Franklin in the meeting house of the great evangelist, George Whitefield.

In the original charter of the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin explained that every country needed a public religion and there was none more useful than Christianity. Thus, Franklin wrote that Christianity would always be taught in the history classes of the University.

In his autobiography, Franklin noted his friendship with Whitefield saying, “I knew him intimately upwards of thirty years. His integrity, disinterestedness, and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work I have never seen equaled and shall never see excelled.” Franklin also noted Whitefield’s emphasis on the need to be born again from John 3:5-6 which says, “Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (NIV). Franklin records Whitefield’s call on him to experience the new birth as well as Whitefield’s concern that Franklin had not yet experienced the new birth. Clearly, Whitefield’s gospel preaching impacted the colonies. Some scholars have suggested that his preaching may have been one of the significant influences that helped to unify the disparate colonies into united American States.