Phillis Wheatley on Whitefield

At age 7 Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was made a slave, taken from her home in west Africa, and sold to a family in Boston. At age 20 Wheatley became the first African American poet to be published. Her book was simply titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Her short life is a magnificent testimony to perseverance and determination. Her poems were well received, especially one she wrote in 1770 at the death of preacher George Whitefield. In the poem Wheatley does a fine job capturing a couple of important themes in Whitefield’s ministry, the centrality of the gospel, of course, but also Whitefield’s deep care and concern for African American slaves and their souls. This was not lost on Wheatley. Here’s a portion of her poem (entire ebook here):

… He pray’d that grace in ev’ry heart might dwell,
He long’d to see America excell;
He charg’d its youth that ev’ry grace divine
Should with full lustre in their conduct shine;
That Saviour, which his soul did first receive,
The greatest gift that ev’n a God can give,
He freely offer’d to the num’rous throng,
That on his lips with list’ning pleasure hung.

Take him, ye wretched, for your only good,
Take him ye starving sinners, for your food;
Ye thirsty, come to this life-giving stream,
Ye preachers, take him for your joyful theme;
Take him my dear Americans, he said,
Be your complaints on his kind bosom laid:
Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you,
Impartial Saviour is his title due:
Wash’d in the fountain of redeeming blood,
You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God.

But, though arrested by the hand of death,
Whitefield no more exerts his lab’ring breath,
Yet let us view him in th’ eternal skies,
Let ev’ry heart to this bright vision rise;
While the tomb safe retains its sacred trust,
Till life divine re-animates his dust.

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