I visited this house last week. It looks like a normal, New England home. The pastel paint with dark shutters, pillared entryways, and two chimneys. But this house is anything from ordinary.
Hundreds of years ago (246 years ago to be exact), the house belonged to Jonathan Parsons, the pastor of Old South Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This house is a mere three doors down. Old South Church was a church founded by the great George Whitefield, and Parsons was selected by Whitefield as its first pastor following him. Whitefield was, of course, a significant voice in the American church at the time, arguably the most relevant of any. People flocked from all across the lands to hear him preach. Everyone from peasants to founding fathers lined up to be a part of his services, if only to catch some of his passionate preaching. Due to his obvious mark left on Old South, he would teach occasionally in a rotation with others at the church. September 30, 1770, was his next sermon.
The night before, Parsons was putting up Whitefield for the night. Whitefield retired to Parsons’ home after a day of preaching in Exeter, New Hampshire (commonly thought of as the site for Whitefield’s last sermon), arriving in Newburyport likely by horseback. He was settling down for the night and likely preparing for his big morning, when all of a sudden, word got around where Whitefield was, and a crowd began to form on the street outside of Parsons’ home. The crowd grew, and began to cry out to hear a word from Whitefield. The crowd grew still. They demanded to hear from Whitefield. Many had come from far away just to hear the man preach. Government officials, politicians, businessmen, families. Finally, Whitefield gave in.
He opened the window atop the upper story in his bedroom, and told the crowd below that he would give them a message. He grabbed a candle, set it on the window sill, and told the crowd he would speak to them so long as the candle burns, and once it burns out, he would go to bed. I’m sure the crowd felt so alive in this moment, receiving a “preview” of tomorrow’s glory right there in the intimate setting of the street. And so Whitefield preached until the candle went out.
He then went to bed, the crowd certainly leaving in deep anticipation for the Lord’s day ahead. But they didn’t know that Whitefield would be leaving that night, too. Whitefield died in the wee hours of Sunday morning, after suffering from an asthma attack, finally finding himself in the presence of the Lord he so loved.
It was moving to see this house, given the circumstances. It was an inspiring story. But it was also convicting. How willing would I be to preach the Word in that moment, after a long day of preaching, and in preparation to preach the upcoming day? Do I see every opportunity to preach the word as valuable to immortal men and women? Am I willing to give up the comforts of sleep and rest and convenience for the sake of others’ souls?
I want to be the kind of preacher that doesn’t need to be in the pulpit, or amongst a large crowd, and in my pajamas, that can still preach with words-of-God conviction.
I want my preaching to war against making myself famous and instead using my audience and platform to make Jesus famous.
I want to know the Scriptures well enough that I don’t need a week of sermon prep to demonstrate effective preaching.
I want to be led by the Spirit in such a manner that I see my circumstances more as potential opportunities and less as inconveniences.
I want to preach every sermon like it could very well be my last.