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and slovenly exterior, contain much curious information; and that, unless we be permitted to contemplate distinguished individuals in their unreserved moments, we shall be in danger of forming very erroneous estimates of human character and of hu
Memoirs of the late Reverend George Whitefield, A. M. of Pembroke College, Oxford; Chaplain to the late Right Hon. Selina, Countess Dowager of Huntingdon, &c. &c. Compiled by the late Reverend John Gilles, D. D. Minister of the College Church of Glasgow. Revised, corrected, and republished. London: 1811; and Dublin: 1811."
THERE are no events that more deserve the investigation of the politician and the philosopher, than those great moral movements, by which the repose of nations is sometimes interrupted. Political changes often exert but a temporary influence upon the fortunes and character of a people; but the developement of a new moral principle, or the incorporation of a new religious dogma with the popular creed, like the electric fluid, acts upon the mass, and quickens every particle into life. Indeed political revolutions, as that of 1688, in our own country, and the recent dissolution of the old monarchy of France, often originate in moral or religious causes. This being the case, it is to be lamented that political writers should have given so small a part of their attention to moral questions.
Of all the assaults upon existing opinions and habits, none has been more marked by peculiarity, and by the importance of its consequences, than the rise of methodism in the middle of the last century. Not less than 150,000 persons in this country have adopted the creed and the discipline of Mr. Wesley alone. The followers of Mr. Whitefield were never organized into a regular body, and now, for the most part, consist of independent congregations. It is therefore difficult to ascertain their numbers; but they are daily sending off large accessions to other bodies of separatists. The zeal of one division of this ecclesiastical army is by no means abated. The followers of Wesley erect seventy or eighty new chapels annually; and are establishing themselves by various means in every village of the land. Their zeal also and a few of their fundamental opinions have communicated them
* The references are made to the Dublin edition, unless expressly stated to be otherwise.
selves to many of the clergy of the establishment; and a partial change is working in the character of the church. , Mr. G. Whitefield was born in 1714. At school he was distinguished for his powers of elocution, and his love of theatrical amusements. It appears also that a more than ordinary seriousness on religious subjects discovered itself in his early days. In the year 1735 he became acquainted with John and Charles Wesley, and with Mr. Harvey, the author of the Meditations; and joined them in establishing a society for their common advancement in religion and knowledge, which, from the regularity of the scheme, soon obtained for its members the name of methodists. In 1736 he was ordained by Bishop Benson, at an earlier age than that prelate usually appointed for ordination. He preached the first Sunday after this ceremony, and not without some of the influence which afterwards accompanied his ministry. His next measures are worth recording, as in some degree prognosticating the desultory and vagrant career of his after life. “The next week,” it is said “he set out for Oxford, whither he inclined to go rather than to the parish which the bishop would have assigned him.’ p. 8. He next took possession of a London pulpit; returned to Oxford; went to the small village of Dummer, in Hampshire; and there, his ardent spirit ill brooking the trammels of ordinary labour, and the narrow bounds of the old world, upon receiving a letter from Mr. Wesley, which he interpreted into a call from God, he set out to take his leave of his friends at Bristol and Gloucester, previous to his voyage to Georgia. “It was in this journey,” says his biographer ‘that God began to bless his ministry in an uncommon manner. Wherever he preached multitudes flocked together, so that the heat of the churches was scarce supportable.—He was indefatigable in his labours, generally preaching four times on Sunday, besides reading prayers twice or thrice, and walking ten or twelve miles.’ At Bristol, where he chiefly laboured, the effect was incredibly great. “Some hung upon the rails, others climed up the leads of the church, and altogether made the church itself so hot with their breath, that the steam would fall from the pillars like rain.” Though he soon preached nine times in the week, thousands went away unable to obtain admission. “When the sacrament was administered early in the morning, you might see the streets filled with people going to church, with lanthorns in their hands.’ Having collected considerable sums in aid of certain institutions in Georgia, he embarked in 1737. On the voyage, according to the statement of our biographer, the captain, and at least half the crew, became his converts. The discharge of his ministerial functions in this first visit to Georgia indicated, that at that time, at least, his zeal was tempered by prudence. His plumage was yet incomplete. Having projected the plan of an orphan-house in Georgia, in imitation of that at Halle, he reimbarked in 1738 for England. . Having once more resumed his ministerial labours, he soon found some of the pulpits of the establishment shut against him, and was coldly received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the heads of the clergy. Whilst in London a new society was formed, chiefly of the old Oxford members, with the addition of about a hundred others. He himself describes their meetings, p. 26. “It was a Pentecost season indeed. Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. Often have we been filled as with new wine; and often have I seen them overwhelmed with the Divine Presence, and cry out, “Will God, indeed, dwell with man upon earth How dreadful is this place' &c.”.” Some person at this period having asked, “What need of going abroad—have we not Indians enough at home—if you have a mind to convert Indians, there are colliers enough at Kingswood?”—He immediately undertook this mission; and finding no place for worship suited to his purpose, he here first, in his own strong language, took, “like his Lord, a mountain for his pulpit, and the skies for his sounding board,” and soon preached to twenty thousand people in the open air. There is something touching in the marks by which he recognized the effect of his sermons upon the poor colliers. “The first discovery,’ says he, “of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by their tears, which plentifully fell down their black cheeks as they came out of their coalpits.” The scene he describes was such, perhaps, as might have stimulated to excess a better regulated mind than that of Whitefield. “The open firmament above—the prospect of the adjacent fields, with the sight of thousands and thousands, some in coaches, some on — horseback and some in the trees, and at times all affected and drenched in tears together, to which sometimes was added the solemnity of the evening, was almost too much for, and quite overcame me.' From Bristol he went a second time to Wales, thence through different cities in the West of England, and at length to London. There he proclaimed his intention to preach in Moor Fields. The manner of announcing this event to his friends is descriptive of the man. ‘To-day my master, by his providence and spirit, compelled me to preach in the church-yard at Islington. To-morrow I am to repeat that mad trick; and on Sunday to go out into Moor Fields. The word of the Lord runs and is glorified. People's hearts seem quite broken. I preach till I sweat through and through.” Letter 46.-The concourse of hearers was enormous, and the personal danger of the preacher
considerable; but he was not to be daunted. Soon after he transplanted his pulpit to Kennington Common, and Blackheath, and at all these places frequently addressed twenty thousand people. He also made another voyage to America, and founded his orphan-house in Georgia ; having, in his rapid course, planted the standard of methodism in several provinces of that country. A curious anecdote is recorded in the journal of one of his fellow travellers at this period. “Heard of a drinking club that had a negro boy attending them, who used to mimic people for their diversion. The gentlemen bid him mimic Mr. Whitefield, which he was very unwilling to do, but they insisted upon it. He stood up and said, “I speak the truth in Christ—I lie not—unless you repent you will all be damned.” This unexpected speech broke up the club, which has not met since.’ In this expedition he preached in churches, meeting-houses, and under the only canopy large enough, perhaps, either for his zeal or his ambition, the skies. One letter, written in America, and describing the effects of his preaching, says—" He preached his farewell sermon to twenty-three thousand people. Such a power and presence of God with a preacher'I never saw before.’ Another says, “His head, his heart, his hands seem to be full of his Master's business. Every eye is fixed upon him, and every ear chained to him. Most are very much affected, and a general seriousness excited. His address, especially to the passions, is wonderful.” In his written journal of this expedition, he says “It is 75 days since I arrived. I have been enabled to preach 175 times. I have travelled upwards of 800 miles, and gotten upwards of 700l. for the Georgian orphans.—Praise the Lord, O my soul!' On his return to England, 1741, he found his popularity much decreased by his letter against the ‘Whole (which he calls the half), Duty of Man;' by his attack (wholly unwarrantable) of Archbishop Tillotson; and by his contest with Mr. Wesley, upon the controverted topic of Calvinism. The tens of thousands, who in this wise and somewhat theological age, presume to delineate the map of our national religion, and to hunt down our heresies for us, are very apt to forget that all Methodists are not Calvinists; but ...t them implacable foes of Calvinism. Those five points, upon which all ages have divided, separated Wesley and Whitefield, and it will help our portrait of the latter to extract part of his address to his original master upon this occasion. Having declared that he “should sink under a dread of his impending trials without his Calvinistic supports'—having called the Arminianism of Mr. Wesley “dishonouring God,'— “blasphemy,” and so forth, he concludes with the following apostrophe-‘Dear, dear sir, O be not offended! For Christ's sake V O Le VIII, 3 O
be not rash! Give yourself to reading—study the covenant of grace—down with your carnal reasoning !—be a little child, and then, instead of pawning your salvation as you have done, in a late hymn book, if the doctrine of universal redemption be not true, you will compose a hymn in praise of sovereign, distinguishing grace. God knows my heart—I love and honour you —and when I come to judgment will thank you before men and angels for what you have, under God, done for my soul. There I am persuaded I shall see dear Mr. Wesley convinced of election and everlasting love.’ Works, vol. 4.
His popularity, however, was eclipsed but for a moment. The Tabernacle was soon built in Moorfields; the congregation, if possible, increased; his avowed Calvinism, indeed, as he tells us, gave offence to the regular clergy. The Scotch Presbytery also condemned his invasion of all the discipline and rites behind which they, scarcely less than ourselves, have found it necessary to entrench their religion.
We extract a curious account of a sort of pitched-battle about this period between Mr. Whitefield and the mountebanks at Bartholomew fair.
“It had been the custom, for many years past, in the holiday seasons, to erect booths in Moorfields, for mountebanks, players, puppetshows, &c. which were attended, from morning till night, by innumerable multitudes of the lowest sort of people. He formed a resolution to preach the gospel among them; and executed it. On Whit Monday, at six o'clock in the morning, attended by a large congregation of praying people, he began. Thousands, who were waiting there, gaping for their usual diversions, all flocked round him. His text was, John iii. 14. ‘They gazed, they listened, they wept; and many seemed to be stung with deep conviction for their past sins.” All was hushed and solemn. “Being thus encouraged,” says he, “I ventured out again at noon, when the fields were quite full; and could scarce help smiling, to see thousands, when a merry-andrew was trumpeting to them, upon observing me mount a stand on the other side of the field, deserting him, till not so much as one was left behind, but all flocked to hear the gospel. But this, together with a complaint that they had taken near twenty or thirty pounds less that day than usual, so enraged the owners of the booths, that, when I came to preach a third time, in the evening, in the midst of the sermon, a merry-andrew got up upon a man's shoulders, and, advancing near the pulpit, attempted to slash me, with a long heavy whip, several times. Soon afterwards they got a recruiting serjeant, with his drum, &c. to pass through the congregation. But I desired the people to make way for the king's officer, which was quietly done. Finding these efforts to fail, a large body, quite on the opposite side, assembled together, and, having got a great pole for their standard, advanced with sound of drum, in a very threatening manner, till they came near the skirts of