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It is on record that Geo.Whitefield was a preacher of uncommon power. This record is true. His first sermon was an earnest of his subsequent greatness, and revealed him to his audience a preacher of no ordinary character. That sermon, before he delivered it, he sent to a clergyman to show him that he was unfit to take upon him the important work of preaching. The clergyman “kept it for a fortnight, and then sent it back with a guinea for the loan of it; telling me he had divided it into two, and had preached it morning and evening to his congregation.”
When he had preached the sermon, he thus wrote to a friend :— “Glory ! glory ! glory ! be ascribed to an Almighty Triune God. Last Sunday, in the afternoon, I preached my first sermon in the church of St. Mary De Crypt, where I was baptized, and also first received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Curiosity, as you may easily guess, drew a large congregation together on the occasion. The sight at first a little awed me ; but I was comforted by a heartfelt sense of the divine presence, and soon found the unspeakable advantage of having been accustomed to public speaking when a boy at school, and of exhorting and teaching the prisoners and poor people at private houses whilst at the university. By these means I was kept from being daunted overmuch. As I proceeded, I perceived the fire kindled, till at last, though so young, and amidst a crowd of those who had known me in my infant, childish days, I trust I was enabled to speak with some degree of Gospel authority. Some few mocked, but most, for the present, seemed struck; and I have since heard that a complaint had been made to the bishop that I drove
fifteen persons mad by the first sermon. The worthy prelate, as I am informed, wished that the madness might not be forgotten till the next Sunday.” His first appearance in London as a preacher is thus described: “On entering the pulpit, his juvenile aspect excited a general sneer of contempt; but he had not spoken long when the sneer gave place to universal symptoms of wonder and pleasure. The sermon stamped his character at once, and from that time his popularity in London continued to increase.” From this time onward to the day of his death, his preaching always awakened deep interest, and was usually followed by important results. He studied, and prayed, and lived, to preach ; and when he preached, he spoke with authority— “in demonstration of the Spirit and with power.” Unless he could exhort in a private or social way, or have opportunity to preach “Christ and him crucified” to the multitudes, he seemed to be out of his element. When he could stand in the pulpit, no matter whether that pulpit was in the stately church with its lofty spire pointing heavenward, or under the solitary tree, or in the booth, or in the open air with nothing but the canopy of heaven for a sounding board, he felt that he was in his appropriate place, and engaged in his appropriate calling. Here he uniformly acquitted himself so as to alarm the careless, convince the sinner of his guilt and danger, and strengthen and comfort the people of God. Whether speaking to the polished congregations of London, or the multitudes at Moorfields, whether in England or Wales or Scotland, whether in Great Britain or America, he always spoke with an unction from the Holy One, and was finally styled the “prince of Preachers.” The testimony of a Franklin and a Hume proves his power to reach at least the intellect of scholars and philosophers; the whitened furrows made by tears on the faces of the colliers show with what effect he could adapt himself to the unlettered mind and the unsophisticated heart. Houses crowded to suffocation, presenting him with a “sea of upturned faces,” whenever he arose to address his dying fellow men; thousands upon thousands gathering with eagerness and haste to the field where it had been announced that Whitefield was expected to preach ; hardened rebels that came to scoff and raise a mob, tamed and sent back weeping; hoary age and lisping childhood, feeble woman and hardy manhood, entranced for hours under the spell of his voice and action; many hundreds dating the commencement of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes, a new life, in their own souls, from the hour they first heard him tell the story of the cross and invite them to Him who was crucified thereon;–all, all attest his wonderful power.
We are to inquire into the secret of that power—to trace the elements of that mighty influence which he exerted over the minds and hearts of his fellow men.
In doing this, it may be well to state at the outset, that his original endowments of mind were of a high order, and such as admirably fitted him for the brilliant course of life which he run. This is clearly shown by the record of his whole life. It would seem that the exact state of things embraced in the history of his times was minutely foreseen, and that he was created with the express design of meeting it. A great work was to be accomplished in his day. A signal illustration of the worthlessness and inefficacy of mere
Wol. III. 4
forms in religion was to be given; the necessity of bringing the great truths of the Gospel directly into contact with the heart and life was to be shown ; and some one was required by the exigencies of the case who should burst the trammels of prescription, and go out even into the highways and hedges to preach the Gospel to the poor and perishing. A man of Whitefield's peculiar powers and temperament was needed, and such an one was raised up. “Every great and effectual movement in human society begins in secret and in silence; in the diffusion through the mass of those who are to be the actors, of those elements of thought and feeling, under the influence of which they are to act. As the movement draws towards its full development, it produces the leading minds which it needs; the men who first understand, and cause others to under- . stand, what the movement is to be, and under whose guidance the multitude labor purposely for its accomplishment.”
The powers of intellect with which nature had endowed Whitefield were cultivated by various and long-continued study. He was not a man to depend on native genius or happy impulses, or on what is sometimes called good luck. Full well he knew that the only price of intellectual or moral excellence is hard study; and that if a man would make his mark upon the world and accomplish the great end of life, he must improve the talents he has and increase their productiveness by judicious and varied cultivation. Hence, he never was one to decry learning, or to undervalue a course of thorough training for the work of the Gospel ministry. He felicitated himself in after life that he could say, “My mother was very careful of my education.” By this he meant not only that she gave him good instructions, but sedulous
ly guarded him against evil influences. When he was ten years old, he says, “I was always fond of being a clergyman, and used frequently to imitate the minister's reading prayers, &c.” At an early age he was sent to a grammar school, and there his proficiency in study was quite remarkable. “Having a good elocution and memory,” he says, “I was remarked for making speeches before the corporation at their annual visitation.” Here he contracted a great fondness for plays, and absented himself for days together from school, that he might prepare for acting them. This relish for plays followed him to the university, and its influence was felt in after life in two ways: first, “their dismal effects I have felt and groaned under ever since;” and secondly, this early acting doubtless contributed its share in the formation of his habits of oratory after he became a preacher of the Gospel. While preparing for college, he seems to have been intent on improving his mind, made “considerable progress in the Latin classics,” “was very diligent in reading and learning the classics, and in studying (his) Greek Testament.” Shortly before he had completed his eighteenth year, he entered the university of Oxford. During his residence at this seat of learning, he became acquainted with the Wesleys; and as “iron sharpeneth iron,” this contact of two powerful though differently constituted minds, must have affected in no unimportant manner the intellectual training of Whitefield. His mental history at 'Oxford was very peculiar, and the different states of feeling through which he passed indeed remarkaable. At length that great crisis of moral character seems to have been passed which separated him forever from the world, and introduced him into the light and freedom of God's own children. “After a long night
of desertion and temptation, the star which I had seen at a distance before, began to appear again; the day-star arose in my heart.” This moral renovation, this introduction to a new world of thought and feeling, had a very marked influence upon his studies, and gave a peculiar cast to his subsequent mental training. He now began to study in earnest, in order to prepare himself for the work of the ministry. Notwithstanding the ardor of his feelings and his desire to be immediately engaged in doing good to others, he knew that his studies must not be neglected. His circumstances were favorable, not only to the improvement of his intellect, but to the correct training and full development of his moral feelings. When about twenty two years of age he took orders, and began to preach “that true religion was a union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us,”—“the new birth and the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.” Having taken his bachelor's degree at Oxford, he commenced in serious earnest the great business of his life ; and, as long as he lived, he continued to cultivate with unwearied assiduity those powers which enabled him to surpass nearly all other men as a persuasive and effective preacher of the Gospel.
With such original powers of mind and such opportunities for their cultivation, Whitefield had acquired a remarkable knowledge of human nature. In early life he was made particularly sensible of his own sinfulness, and hence was prepared, when he became a preacher of righteousness, to hold up to the view of his fellow men the human heart in all its corruption and moral deformity. His own testimony on this point follows: “I can remember such early stirrings of corruption in my heart, as abundantly convince me that I was conceived and born in sin; that in me dwelleth no good thing by nature; and that, if God had not freely prevented me by his grace, I must have been forever banished from his presence. I was so brutish as to hate instruction ; and used purposely to shun all opportunities of receiving it. I soon gave pregnant proofs of an impudent temper. Lying, filthy talking, and foolish jesting, I was much addicted to, even when very young. Sometimes I used to curse, if not to swear. Stealing from my mother I thought no theft at all, and used to make no scruple about taking money out of her pockets before she was up. I have frequently betrayed my trust. Numbers of Sabbaths have I broken, and generally used to behave myself very irreverently in God's sanctuary. Much money have I spent in plays and in the common amusements of the age. Cards and reading romances were my heart's delight. It would be endless to recount the sins and offenses of my younger days. “They are more in number than the hairs of my head.’ My heart would fail me at the remembrance of them, were I not assured that my Redeemer liveth to make intercession for me. Whatever foreseen fitness for salvation others may talk of and glory in, I disclaim any such thing; if I trace myself from my cradle to my manhood, I can see nothing in me but a fitness to be damned. ‘I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not.”
As he increased in years his conceptions of the enormity and odiousLess of sin, and of the moral corruption of the natural heart, became clearer and more affecting. The Spirit often and powerfully strove with him, and sent him to his closet weeping. For a considerable period before his conversion, he was the subject of various and peculiar exercises of mind, and was led in a way which presented him with a great diversity of views of the human heart. When he was introduced into the kingdom of grace
and began to rejoice in the freedom where with Christ makes free, his feelings were strong and decided indeed, and he was in raptures. “I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me, and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Savior. For some time I could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was ; but my joy became gradually more settled.” But he had much to learn after that turning point in his history; and in the study of himself, he was no unapt or dull scholar. Few perhaps have excelled him in the science of selfknowledge. Few have more thoroughly sounded the depths of the human heart, or more skillfully analyzed its multiform and mysterious workings. With this deep experience of what was in himself, he was so situated as to have opportunity to learn human nature, as exhibited by others, in a great variety of forms. Born in an inn, he there saw man in an attitude which he seldom presents elsewhere. Removing from place to place in the course of his preparatory education, he came in contact with mind in a great diversity of circumstances. When he began to preach, he commenced anew the great study of man; and thus, what with studying himself and others and various reading, he came to have an unusual knowledge of human nature. This gave him great power as a preacher of the gospel. Knowing so well what was in himself, and “as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man,” also what was in other men, he could address himself to others with a skill sure as instinct—a searching power which otherwise would not have been possible to him. This enabled him to speak from his own heart to other hearts—from his own conscience to other consciences—from his own experience to the varying conditions of other minds. The abasing yet elevating, painful yet joyful, simple yet sublime truths of the Gospel, had all been authenticated in the humblings and elevations, the conflicts and triumphs of his own breast. “He spoke what he knew, and testified what he had seen and felt.” His preaching was not made up of dry abstractions and cold technicalities and vague generalities; but it contained living realities drawn fresh and glowing from the heart. Its staple was not of the letter which killeth, but of the spirit that giveth life. His pictures were not mere copies, but originals, conceived at first in his own soul, and then sketched boldly with a master's hand and held up to the view of dying men, instinct with life and full of power. Was the sinfulness of man's heart the theme of discourse 2 his words were sharp and his preaching authoritative, because he had felt the bitterness of sin and been chained to its cruel servitude. Did he persuade sinners to become reconciled to God 2 his persuasion was almost resistless, because he knew in his own experience the reasonableness and joys of reconciliation. When he portrayed the consequences of continued unbelief, and pointed to a coming judgment and the retributions of eternity, it was with the earnestness, the melting pathos of one who had often made that judgment a reality in his own vivid imagination, and looked into the “lake that burneth.” This may account for a species of egotism—modest but not unpleasant—which we find running through nearly all his sermons. He touches a point in Christian experience. How natural to illustrate it by what his own heart has taught him. He grapples with some difficulty that causes the young Christian to stumble and despair. What more effective mode to dispose of it can he employ, than to tell how it troubled
himself and how he obtained the mastery over it? “He thinks aloud about himself, only to enable others to know what to think about their own perplexities, dilemmas, and temptations. He shows them his own soul, merely to prove that “no strange thing has befallen' their souls.” Let the following passage serve as a specimen of this clerical egotism. “Do not say that I preach despair. I despair of no one, when I consider how God had mercy on such a wretch as I, who was running in a full career to hell. I was hasting thither; but Jesus Christ passed by and stopped me. Jesus Christ passed by while I was in my blood, and bid me live. Thus I am a monument of God's free grace; and, therefore, my brethren, I despair of none of you, when I consider, I say, what a wretch I was.” Looking upon one who was openly profane, grossly vicious and who gloried in his shame, he exclaimed with irrepressible emotion, “but for the grace of God, there goes George Whitefield I?’ Let one more specimen suffice. “My friends, I trust I feel somewhat of a sense of God's distinguishing love upon my heart; therefore I must divert a little from congratulating believers, to invite poor Christless sinners to come to him, and accept his righteousness, that they may have life. Alas, my heart almost bleeds ! What a multitude of precious souls are now before me ! How shortly must all be ushered into eternity and yet, O cutting thought, was God now to require all your souls, how few, comparatively speaking, could really say, ‘The Lord our righteousness.” “And think you, O sinners, that you will be able to stand in the day of judgment, if Christ be not your righteousness | No, that alone is the wedding garment in which you must appear. O Christless sinners, I am distressed for you ! the desires of my soul are enlarged. O that