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this may be an accepted time ! That the Lord may be your righteousness! for whither would you flee, if death should find you naked 2 Indeed there is no hiding yourselves from his presence. The pitiful figleaves of your own righteousness will not cover your nakedness, when God shall call you to stand before him. O think of death ! O think of judgment Yet a little while, and time shall be no more; and then what will become of you, if the Lord be not your righteousness *** While thus speaking, says his biographer, “his face was a language, and his intonation music, and his action passion.” Could he have spoken thus, and held multitudes in breathless silence hour after hour, had he not declared what he had seen and testified what he had felt P Surely nothing short of this utterance of the heart, this disclosure of the realities of his own deep experience, could have packed the houses where he preached to suffocation, and caused “multitudes to follow him home weeping.” Though his sermons were elaborated in the head, they must have been “carried through the heart,” or they could not have penetrated so many other hearts. His own experience, his large knowledge of human nature, enabled him to adapt himself to all classes of mind and to the varying conditions of those whom he addressed. He knew, as by intuition, when to construct the chain of elaborate argument, when to lead captive the imagination, when to urge the claims of law and duty upon the conscience, and when to apply all his power of entreaty, persuasion and pathos directly to the heart. He had in an eminent degree this quality of an effective preacher of the Gospel; a knowledge of the nature of the material he had to work upon. Without this, he might have had uncommon powers of intellect, and yet made but
little impression upon the minds of others. Without this, he could not have exhibited that wonderful skill, that almost miraculous sagacity, which enabled him so powerfully to affect alike the rich and the poor, the philosopher and the collier. Without this the name of George Whitefield had never been interchangeable with “prince of preachers.” But while he was thus remarkable for his acquaintance with the complex and mysterious workings of the human heart, he understood also with unusual clearness the nature of the means with which he was to reach and mould that heart. In other words, He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” Before he took orders as a preacher of righteousness, he was accustomed to spend much time in perusing the word of God and those books which illustrated divine truth. On one occasion he says, “Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements, and prayed over my Greek Testament and Bishop Hall's most excellent Contemplations.” “While thus engaged in searching the Scriptures, he discovered the true grounds of a sinner's hope and justification. The testimony of God concerning his Son became power unto salvation.” Again he says, “My mind being now more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light, and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men. In one word, 1 found it profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction, every way sufficient to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work and word. About this time, God was pleased to enlighten my soul and bring me into the knowledge of his free grace, and the necessity of being justified in his sight by faith alone. Burkitt's and Henry's Expositions were of admirable use to lead me into this and all other Gospel truths.” After his ordination and his first appearance in London, he returned to Oxford, and there he “devoted the chief part of his time to the study of Henry's Commentary.” How highly he valued this work may be seen from the manner in which he expressed his gratitude to God for being unexpectedly enabled to pay for the copy which had been furnished him. “Forever blessed be divine goodness!” Most heartily did he respond to the sublime eulogy pronounced by the psalmist on God's word: “The law of God is perfect, converting the soul.” “How love I thy law it is my meditation all the day.” “Thy word have I hid in my heart.” No one can read the life of Whitefield, or peruse those sermons of his, which, imperfect as they are, have been preserved, without perceiving his uncommon familiarity with the word of God. In almost every paragraph of his discourses you find either a direct quotation, or obvious allusion, or brief paraphrase, which shows you clearly that his whole soul was imbued with the spirit of the Gospel, and his trains of thought suggested and carried forward by “the words in which the Holy Ghost spoke to holy men of old.” Now it can not be questioned that this extensive and intimate acquaintance with the truths and language of revelation gave him great power in proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ. He might have been vastly more profound than he was in the exact sciences, and much more learned in the literature of the ancients and the moderns; he might have explored the whole circle of
intellectual and moral philosophy, and been perfectly at home in all the arts of the dialectician and the rhetorician ; and yet, deficient in respect to a knowledge of the word of God, he could not have excelled as he did as a preacher of the everlasting Gospel. His sermons might have been carefully elaborated and full of historical and classical allusions; they might have contained ingenious essays on morality, subtle disquisitions on the nature and advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice ; they might withal have been pronounced in the most finished style of elocution; yet, had they not exhibited a profound and familiar knowledge of the word of God, and been shaped and characterized by the demands of God's own truth, he never could have produced such effects as he did upon the diversified classes of hearers whose minds were brought into contact with his ministrations. To be mighty in human science, in philosophy, in literature, is one thing; to be “mighty in the Scriptures,” is quite another and altogether a superior thing. This power is indeed indispensable to the efsective preacher. If a man presents himself before a company of immortal beings, professedly to teach them how to escape the consequences of sin, and how to render their immortality blessed and glorious, he does little more than perpetrate an absurdity, at least an impertinence, if he leave out of his ministrations the instructions of the Holy Spirit on those subjects which constitute the essence of the Gospel. No matter what else he preaches, if his sermons, are not imbued with the spirit of Gospel truth, if he depend not on this for his groundwork, superstructure, finish and effect, he preaches to very little purpose. His declamations, and soarings, and fancies, will be as powerless as a pageant, if the mind be not illumined by divine light, and the deep
fountains of his soul moved by the solemn realities of God's word. His trumpet gives an uncertain sound, so fights he as one that beateth the air. An intimate acquaintance with the words and facts—the biography, history, prophecy, poetry, doctrines and precepts of the Bible, will enable him to speak with authority, and to produce an effect, to which the transient results of mere secular eloquence are tame and insignifiCânt.
George Whitefield spoke not so much in the words which man's wisdom teacheth as in those which the Holy Ghost teacheth—words fitly chosen and fitly spoken, like apples of gold in pictures of silver; and hence he went to the thronged churches in the metropolis of Great Britain, and to the ten thousands in Moorfields and the gathering multitudes in America, “in demonstration of the Spirit and in power.” He had studied the Bible for himself, had obtained clear perceptions of its great and majestic truths, knew that they would be mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds, and used them with great confidence and boldness as weapons drawn fresh from the armory of heaven to contend with spiritual wickedness in high places and in low places. “He uttered his message in freeness and fervor, with the belief that there is an importance, a dignity, a worth attached to it, which the most reckless must respect, and a power inherent which the most obdurate must feel. His deep-felt confidence in his weapon, his bold relief of doctrine, often arrested attention, and by the Spirit's aid subdued the heart, when a doubtful and faltering utterance would have been met with the most vacant indifference, if not with postive scorn.” A distinguished modern divine has recorded his own experience of an intelligent study of the divine word, in the following
graphic language: “It has given
me more intelligence in the things of God, more conviction of what is truth, more confidence in preaching the Gospel, more elevation above the atmosphere of vapors, and hobbies and isms, more rich and various furniture for the sacred desk, more stability in religious vision, more joy and peace in believing, and more vigor and equability of faith, and so has done me more substantial good, probably,–than all other ways and means, with the use of all other books in my library.” Doubtless Whitefield would have recorded his experience on this point, in language equally strong. Cowper never could have applied to him the remonstrance, which, when applied, cut with so keen an edge. “If true, then why resort at every turn, To Athens or to Rome for wisdom short Of men's occasions, when in Him reside Grace, knowledge, comfort, an unfathomed store ? How oft, when Paul hath served us with a text, Hath Epictetus, Plato, Tully, preached '" In continuing our estimate of Whitefield's power as a preacher, we must not omit to mention that he had a deep sense of the magnitude and importance of his office. Writing to a dear friend, June 20, 1736, he says, “This is a day much to be remembered, O my soul | for about noon I was solemnly admitted by good Bishop Benson, before many witnesses, into holy orders. I endeavored to behave with unaffected devotion; but not suitable enough to the greatness of the office I was to undertake. At the same time, I trust, I answered to every question from the bottom of my heart, and heartily prayed that God might say, Amen. I hope the good of souls will be my only principle of action. Let come what will—life or death, depth or height—I shall henceforth live like one, who, this day, in the presence of men and angels, took the holy sacrament upon the profession of being inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon me that ministration in the church. I can call heaven and earth to witness, that when the Bishop laid his hand upon me, I gave myself up to be a martyr for Him who hung upon the cross for me. I have thrown myself blindfold, and, I trust, without reserve, into his Almighty hands; only, I would have you observe, that until you hear of my dying for or in my work, you will not be apprised of all the preferment that is expected by G. W.” His recent biographer subjoins, “Perhaps no mind, since the apostolic age, has been more deeply af. fected, or suitably exercised, by ‘the laying on of hands' than Whitefield was. A supernatural unction from the Holy One, could hardly have produced greater moral effects. That high sense of responsibility, that singleness of heart, that entire and intense devotedness of soul, body, and spirit, which characterized the first embassadors of Christ, seems revived in him. Accordingly, after reading the narrative of his ordination, we naturally expect from Whitefield a sort of apostplic career. After witnessing at the altar a spirit wound up to the highest pitch of ardor, throbbing and thrilling with strong emotions, and, like a renovated eagle, impatient to burst off, we naturally look for a corresponding swiftness of flight and width of sweep, and feel that we shall not be surprised by any thing that follows. His unbosomings of himself disclose in his heart a ‘secret place of thunder,’ and “a fountain of tears,’ from which we expect alternate bursts of terror and tenderness—bolts of Sinai and dew of Hermon; and we shall not be disappointed.” This feeling of responsibility and deep sense of the magnitude of his work followed Whitefield through the whole course of his ministry. Hence he was wont to express himself in the following caustic manner in reference to such as Paul would probably have styled novices. “It
has long since been my judgment, that it would be best for many of the present preachers to have a tutor and retire for a while, and be content with preaching now and then, till they were a little more improved. Otherwise I fear that many who now make a temporary figure, for want of a proper foundation, will run themselves out of breath, will grow weary of the work and leave it.” In regard to himself he said, “I am sure I never prayed so much against my infirmities, as against going into holy orders too soon. However some may come to preach here and there, I have prayed hundreds of times that God would not let me go too soon. I remember once at Gloucester—I know the room, and I can not help looking up at the window when I am there and going by ; I know the bedside, I know the floor, on which I have been prostrate for weeks together, crying, I can not go; I am a novice; I shall fall into the condemnation of the devil. Yet I wanted to be at Oxford; I wanted to stay there three or four years, that I might make one hundred and fifty sermons at least, for I wished to set up with a stock in trade. I remember wrestling, praying, groaning, striving with God; and I said, ‘I am undone, unfit to speak in thy name; my God, send me not.” After I had written to all my friends to pray against the bishop's solicitation, these words came into my mind—“My sheep hear my voice, and none shall pluck them out of my hand.” Then I said, ‘Lord, I will go: send me when thou wilt.”.” Most deeply did he feel that “if any man desire the office of bishop, he desireth a good work,” and a great work; and it was his constant care to “magnify his office,” whenever and wherever he was called to exercise his ministry. “Believing himself to be the messenger of God, commissioned to call sinners to repentance, he spoke as one conscious of his high credentials, with authority and power.” Had he imagined that this office could rightly be assumed, the principal intent being the obtainment of a living, had he entered upon this work merely because he must be employed somewhere and somehow, had he adopted this calling because he was ambitious to enter upon one of the learned professions,—or had he become a minister in the church because he thought he should have more leisure in this profession for literary pursuits, or for pursuing the chase and following the giddy pleasures and fashionable frivolities of high life-he would never have been, “now the son of thunder and now the messenger of consolation” that he was. But feeling that God had called him to a great work, that it was sufficient to put in requisition all his talents and resources, that it involved vast responsibilities, and took deep hold upon eternity, he preached as a dying man to dying men, and concentrated all his energies for the accomplishment of one glorious object, and that to win the greatest possible number of souls to Christ. Neither place nor power, neither love nor money, neither fear nor favor, could have induced him to impair the dignity or detract from the magnitude of his office by becoming a school teacher to augment his income, or to descend from the exalted sphere of an embassador of Christ to stand for a seat in Parliament, or go on a mission to some foreign court. To all applications for such a descent, whether from friend or foe, his prompt and emphatic reply would have been, “I am doing a great work, so that I can not come down to you. Why should the work cease, while I leave it to come down 2" Draw near, ye who make merchandise of the sacred office, or imagine that no peculiar responsibility attaches to the work of negotiating between God Wol. III.
and man, and contemplate Whitefield overwhelmed in view of the magnitude of his calling, and yielding for life all his powers and attainments to its solemn duties. Look at him especially as he enters “the pulpit,” which “Must stand acknowledged while the world shall stand, The most important and effectual guard, Support, and ornament, of virtue's cause. There stands the messenger of truth; there stands The legate of the skies!—His theme divine, His office sacred, his credentials clear. By him the violated law speaks out Its thunders; and by him, in strains as sweet As angels use, the Gospel whispers peace."
“Mutatis mutandis, et de te fabula narratur.”
Another element of power in the preaching of Whitefield, was a practical sagacity which he had in an eminent degree—a talent of nice selection and wise adaptation, which enabled him “rightly to divide the word of truth and give to each one his portion in due season.” When he read prayers and expounded the Scriptures to the poor, he knew what was needed, and with consummate skill adapted himself to the wants and capacities of his hearers. When he went between decks and preached to the sailors and soldiers during his voyages across the Atlantic, he so preached that the profane learnt to speak with reverence the name of God, and the scoffer became serious and prayerful. Why? Because he had sagacity to perceive what was needed in their case, wisdom to make the right application of truth, and the Holy Spirit crowned with success labors thus directed. When he told the story of the cross to multitudes made up of nearly all classes, he had a word for the wise, another for the unwise. “To the Jew, he became a Jew, that he might gain the Jew; to the Roman, a Roman, that he might gain him.” When he preached before lords and philosophers, he was wise to adapt himself to their particular wants and circumstances, and,