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in the preparation and utterance of his discourses 2 Perhaps no man ever lived nearer to God, or felt the “powers of the world to come” more intensely than Whitefield; and few have ever paid more attention to the qualities of the true orator. “He was too devotional to be cooled by rules, and too natural to be spoiled by art, and too much in earnest to win souls to neglect system.” What a contrast to some examples presented in our own day ! A modern writer, a little tinged perhaps with the spirit of exaggeration, tells us “of arms that sail about like the arms of a windmill, and with as little meaning; and of the more common sawing, hammering, and punching, that suggest a doubt whether the man was not intended for a different trade from that of speaking; of a distortion of countenance like that of Piso, who as Cicero tells us, spake in the senate with one eyebrow screwed up to the forehead, and the other dropped to the level of the chin.” And yet how loud, how imperative is the demand for a manner in the preacher, suited to the subject, and adapted to arrest attention. “We are so made that looks, tones and gestures, if adjusted according to nature, and the offspring of a living soul within, arrest and move us. There is something within our breasts, which solicits the orator's touch, and which is quick and generous in its response.” A graphic writer has said, “The multitude are ready to swallow any thing that comes in the shape of rhetoric. They are hungering and thirsting for it; they are lifting up their souls for it, to the pulpit, the bar, to the senate chamber; they are ready to be instructed, to be moved ; to be aroused, transported—yes, the most obdurate to be melted, the dullest to be charmed, if the power and the wisdom, come in the form of eloquence.” Says Bishop Middleton,
“Manner is something with every body, and every thing with some.” A greater than he has said to the minister of Christ, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear in all things.” “And because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought to find out acceptable words.” “A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
Thus far, in enumerating the elements of power in the preaching of Whitefield, we have spoken of his original endowments of mind; of the manner in which his intellectual powers were trained; of accurate and varied knowledge of human nature ; of his large acquaintance with the holy Scriptures; of his deep sense of the magnitude and solemnity of his office; of his practical sagacity in the adaptations of truth; of the use he made of the imagination, or his dramatic power; and of the special attention which he bestowed upon both the manner of preparing and the manner of delivering his discourses. Would the limits of this article admit, we might allude to his possession of a person “graceful and well-proportioned, a stature above the middle size, a fair complexion, a manly countenance, and a very sprightly eye”—as auxiliary to his power as a pulpit orator. We should speak also of organs of utterance which could command a volume of sound sufficient to reach the ears of twenty thousand persons at the same time, and whose lowest whispers would thrill through the heart of that vast multitude. Garrick declared that he could move to tears, or make men tremble, by his wonderful intonations in pronouncing the word Mesopotamia. Nor would we think it aside from the spirit of our theme, to dwell upon a native ardor of temperament which conduced, even amid much weariness and corporeal pain, to an animated and vivid presentation of the great truths of salvation. Said an aged divine, who practically exemplifies his own precept, when asked what is one of the most essential requisites in a preacher, Temperament. When asked, what is a second, he replied, Temperament. To the question reiterated, he again answered, Temperament. The quality intended to be expressed by this answer, Whitefield possessed in an eminent degree. This helped him to be energetic, when others would have languished in their impotency; to be cheerful and buoyant, when others would have been sad and drooping; to be abundant in labors, and joyful in the Lord, when many would have shrunk from all effort, and become the prey of despair; to overcome difficulties and overmaster temptations, which would have been insuperable by others and reduced them to subjection.—It would also be necessary to a complete development of our subject, to dwell somewhat at length upon the state of the religious community in Whitefield's day. It differed in many respects from what it is now. There was far less general intelligence, and far less knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel. When Whitefield, therefore, preached these doctrines, he had all the influence of novelty to aid the impression which he made. “They had never heard of regeneration but at the baptismal font; and that told them of its beginning and completion in the same breath.” The leaders of the people in religion were accustomed to say, “that we should go to our baptism for the date of our regeneration.” On this and its kindred themes there was great ignorance and confusion of mind among the people; following the lead of blind guides, they were in a place
most of all unfavorable to any clear views or just appreciation of the realities of divine truth. Whitefield burst upon them at once as an angel of light. He brushed away the cobwebs of error, stripped off the disguises that had been thrown around the truth, and brought before the minds of the people the simple and sublime truths of the Gospel as subjects in which they were personally interested. Under his treatment the new birth, repentance, faith, God and his Son Jesus Christ, heaven, and hell, were connected with the sinner's own responsibility; and he was made to feel that there was something in his moral nature that responded to these spiritual realities, and connected him with the solemn retributions of eternity. To him Whitefield was an original. He took truths that long before had been taught, freed them from the dust and rubbish that had been accumulating for ages, and, in forms of interest and new proportions, threw them into wide circulation. In estimating his power as a preacher, therefore, the state of the times in which he commenced his career must by no means be overlooked. Being an original in those times, the force of novelty contributed its full proportion in swelling that tide of influence over the public mind which acquired for him the title of “prince of preachers.” It is not intended, however, by this statement, to imply that Whitefield would not be a remarkable and powerful preacher at the present day. Such powers of mind as he had, such training, such a religious experience, such a voice, such a manner, such unction, such boldness and energy, would make a man popular and effective any where and in any age. The man who could preach in 1740 so as to elicit encomiums like the following, from the most competent judges, could also make himself heard and felt in 1844. “He appeared to me,” in all his discourses, very deeply affected and impressed in his own heart. How did that burn and boil within him, when he spake of the things he had made ‘touching the King!” How was his tongue like the pen of a ready writer, touched as with a coal from the altar ! With what a flow of words— what a ready profusion of language, did he speak to us upon the great concerns of our souls. In what a flaming light did he set our eternity before us! How earnestly he pressed Christ upon us! How did he move our passions with the constraining love of such a Redeemer! The awe, the silence, the attention which sat upon the face of the great audience, was an argument how he could reign over all their powers. Many thought he spake as never man spake before him. So charmed were the people with his manner of address, that they shut up their shops, forgot their secular business, and laid aside their schemes for the world; and the oftener he preached, the keener edge he seemed to put upon their desires to hear him again. How close, strong, and pungent were his applications to the conscience; mingling light and heat; pointing the arrows of the Almighty at the hearts of sinners, while he poured in the balm upon the wounds of the contrite, and made broken bones rejoice. Eternal themes, the tremendous solemnities of our religion, were all alive upon his tongue.” In connection with the thought above exhibited, it ought to be stated that the fact that Whitefield had power, greatly increased his power. The popularity which he had acquired at an early stage of his ministry, was a means of augmenting his popularity. This necessarily implies, indeed, the possession of ster
* Sermon by the Rev. Josiah Smith, Charleston, S. C.
Vol. III. 6
ling qualities and uncommon excellences beforehand; and yet it did undoubtedly operate so as to add to his power and extend his influence. His case affords a fine illustration of the principle, that “to him who hath, shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.” Having ‘five talents’ when he began, “he went and traded with them, until he had increased them to ten. Once having established his reputation as a preacher, it “had a purpose to be his purveyor,” and always heralded his approach. To hear him, “expectation was on tiptoe.” When he arrived, all were on the “qui vive.” When he took his stand in the pulpit, or on the temporary platform prepared for him under the “peartree,” every eye was open, every ear unstopped, every mind awake, and every heart prepared to be interested and moved by his address. The gathered multitudes acted and reacted upon each other before and when he came; the ‘sea of upturned faces’ inspired him, knowing as he did, that if he should fail to meet all this expectation, he would fall far below himself; and all the circumstances of the occasion, the outlines and filling up of the scene, conspired to give him a wonderful influence over the great mass of mind with which his own was to be brought into contact. But we must not dwell on topics like these, however pleasant and instructive it might be, if the limits of our article would allow it. We hasten to a close by a single additional remark. George Whitefield was eminently a holy man. From the time that he cordially embraced Christ as his Lord and Savior, to the hour when he went to his reward, his whole soul appears to have been devoutly consecrated to God. It was a maxim with him, that they who live through Christ, “should live henceforth not unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” He could not be satisfied with low attainments in piety. That every faculty of his mind, every acquisition he had made in knowledge, every influence which he possessed, or could acquire, should be devoted to the service of God in the gospel of his Son, seemed to him not only important as contributing to his success in preaching, but pre-eminently reasonable. From the commencement of his course as a Christian, he said with all sincerity, with all his heart in his words, ‘Lord, I am thine in body, soul and spirit—thine, now—thine, through life—hine, till death—thine, forever.” He had such assurance that he was really a converted man, that Christ was formed within him the hope of glory, and made unto him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, that his mind was relieved in a great measure from embarrassment and perplexity on this point, and his undivided energies left free for the prosecution of his great work. He was not merely a moral man, or a serious minded man, or a gifted man, or a learned man, or a man who hoped to be converted at some future time; but, as his life shows, a regenerated man. Nor was he merely a regenerated man; but a man of deep and ardent piety. Daily he “walked with God.” As on the mount of transfiguration, he gazed upon the Redeemer's glory, till his own soul became penetrated with its beams, and itself radiant. Cultivating intimate fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, he became a lucid medium of communicating a divine influence to his fellow men. As a general rule, he went from his closet to the pulpit, and returned from the pulpit to his closet. He walked “in the garden where his great and only master dwelleth,” and came forth daily “from that paradise, with his robes exhaling the perfume of its spices.” This made him interesting. This drew to him the attention and the hearts
of the people. This enabled him to throw around them cords of influence, gentle and constraining, by which he drew sinners to Christ. He took heed to himself, kept his heart with all diligence, lived and preached for eternity. By purging himself from false ambition's aspirations, and crucifying the flesh with its affections and its lusts, he became “a vessel unto honor,’ sanctified, and meet for the Master's use. Honest with himself and with his God, he could not deal “in the false commerce of unfelt truth.” Hear him describe his habits of spirituality, just before he took orders. “Oh, what sweet communion had I daily vouchsafed with God in prayer, after my o to Gloucester! How often have I been carried out beyond myself, when meditating in the fields ! How assuredly I felt that Christ dwelt in me and I in him; and how daily did I walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and was edified and refreshed in the multitude of peace l’” Again he writes, long after he had begun to preach, “There is nothing I dread more than having my heart drawn away by earthly objects. When that time comes, it will be over with me indeed; I must then bid adieu to zeal and fervency of spirit, and in effect bid the Lord Jesus depart from me. For alas, what room can there be for God, when a rival has taken possession of the heart? My blood runs cold at the very thought thereof. I can not, indeed I can not away with it.” “It is not for me to tell how often I use secret prayer; if I did not use it, nay, if in one sense I did not pray without ceasing, it would be difficult for me to keep up that frame of soul, which, by the divine blessing, I daily enjoy.” Speaking of his popularity, he says, “It is too much for one man to be received as I have been by thousands. The thoughts of it lay me low, but I can not get low enough. I would willingly sink into nothing before the
blessed Jesus, my all in all.” “Let
“For touching hearts, the only secret known, My worthy friend, is this; to have one of your own.”
“After all,” says his biographer, “the grand secret of Whitefield's power, was his devotional spirit. Had he been less prayerful, he would have been less powerful. He was the prince of preachers without
Preferring the Honor of Christ to his own Interest, Repose, Reputation, and Life. As a Christian Orator, his deep Piety, disinterested zeal, and vivid Imagination,
Gave unexampled Energy to his look, utterance, and action.
Bold, fervent, pungent, and popular in his Eloquence,