As George Whitefield sailed from his native England to Georgia where he was to be a missionary, he ministered to those on board the ship. Here is an excerpt from his journal where he discusses a ministry encounter with a particularly willful child:
Had a good instance of the benefit of breaking children’s wills betimes. Last night, going between decks (as I do every night) to visit the sick and to examine my people, I asked one of the women to bid her little boy say his prayers. She answered his elder sister would, but she could not make him. Upon this I bid the child kneel down before me, but he would not till I took hold of his two feet and forced him down. I then bid him say the Lord’s prayer (being informed by his mother he could say it if he would), but he obstinately refused, till at last, after I had given him several blows, he said his prayer as well as could be expected and I gave him some figs for a reward.
Commenting on this (a passage I’ve been laughing about since I read it last night), Arnold Dallimore says (quite rightly) “this action seems both foolish and cruel by today’s standards and it is not in any attempt to excuse it that we notice that it was in keeping with the customs of those times. … We must deplore both the custom [of attempting to conquer a child’s will] and Whitefield’s action on the basis of it.”
This brief encounter aside, Whitefield’s period of ministry upon the boat is remarkable and this brief journey was used by God to call many to Himself through His humble but flawed servant.