Page images
PDF
EPUB

It is now more than sixty years, since this favored man of God cl sed his astonishing labors, and entered upon his reward. Most those who knew him, or had heard bim preach, are now sleepin with the silent dead. Here and there only, may be found one whose whitened locks and decrepit frame, tell that he has passe the bounds of fourscore years, who can recall to mind the appeal ance and address of this servant of Christ. But these scattere relics of a former age will soon be gone. The thrill of awakene emotion, with which they listened to his glowing eloquence, ca then, in no degree, be communicated to others; and all the origin sources of information, except what may be found in cotempora neous biography, will be lost. Would that some one before this had set himself about treasuring up these materials for the futur life of Whitefield. Valuable additions, doubtless, now irrecovera bly lost, might in this way have been secured. He was a rar man, and his character one which has been comparatively litul anderstood. The influence which he exerted in the cause o Christ, while he lived, was great. He went about doing good and died in the midst of his labors, and before his popularity a a preacher had begun to wane. What were his labors, and hor great was his success, we may, in some slight measure, learn fron the volume before us; but eternity alone can fully enable us to estimate the amount of blessing which he has been the happ) instrument of conveying to myriads of our race. The example o Whitefield is destined, we believe, to exert an increasing influence upon many on earth.

It will be a source from whence many devoted servant of Christ will draw forth motives to stimulate him to increased engagedness in the cause of his divine Master:~a mine of valuable reflections is contained in the history of his active piety, which will enrich the church of God with many a precious volume of results, reaching down to the last period of its exist ence. Though dead, he yet speaketh ; and his unwearied dili gence, never remitted zeal and devotedness, may yet find imita tors, who have thereby been incited to aim at, and, would that we might venture to hope, attain to, similar success to that which crowned his efforts with blessings.

Our readers will doubtless recollect the use already made of Whitefield's example, in the last number of the Christian Spectator. Some too, of those under whose notice this article will fall may perhaps remember the able Review of Southey's life of Wesley, in connection with Gillies' Memoirs of Whitefield, which oc cupied the pages of this work while yet a monthly periodical. * But as our object at this time will lead us into a different train o reflections, we trust we shall not be chargeable with undue repeti10n

* See Christian Spectator,

1821

, though we find it necessary to advert again to some of the facts contained in the extracts heretofore given. We have deemed this apology proper now, as some of our readers might otherwise te led to suppose, that the former review had escaped our notice. We have no design of attempting a detailed account of Whiteheld's life and labors, but shall just glance at some of the most prominent points of interest in his biography ; sketching, so far as time will allow, an outline of his history and character, with particular reference to the benefits to be derived from an acquaintwce with his memoirs and writings, by the private christian, and the minister of the gospel.

The early life of Whitefield furnishes little that is remarkable. Bon at Bell Inn, Gloucester, December 16, 1714, 0. S., and josing his father at the age of two years, his education devolved exclusively on his mother. The inmate of a public house, and Exposed to the numberless temptations incident to such a life, his childhood could promise little good to himself or others. Hence, he records it as a subject for gratitude, that, notwithstanding the disadvantages of his condition, he was preserved from utter ruin. If his confessions in after life are to be taken as a true estimate of himself, when compared with others, he must have been more than ordinarily vicious. Allowance must, however, be made for his habitual humility, and disposition to exalt the grace of God, in bis deliverance. He describes himself as froward and brutish, hating instruction, pilfering and appropriating to his own use the moneys received for his mother; and, as he says, so depraved, that, “ If I trace myself from my cradle to my manhood, I can see nothing in me but a fitness to be damned.” Yet he was not without srequent reproofs of conscience; nor was he unfeeling on the subject of his eternal interests.

If we might here venture on a conjecture, we should judge from the characteristics which he afterwards exhibited, that he was a determined, headstrong boy,--one who could not be driven to his duty, but who had so much sympathy in his composition, that it would not be difficult to lead him in the right way; a class of persons peculiarly open to the influence of the temptations by which he seems to have been surrounded. We cannot wonder

, therefore, that he deeply realizes his obligations to that natchless grace which plucked him from his path of ruin, and planted his feet in a sure and safe place. At the early age of ten, we find him reading and interested in Bishop Ken's Manual; a fact which indicates that his mind was somewhat occupied with religious thought. The circumstances which at first thus directed his attention are not stated; unless implied in the incidental mention of the unbappiness resulting from the second marriage of his mother, about the same period. At this time he enjoyed the advantages of a public school, but the means of his mother became finally so straitened, that before he had reached fifteen, he found in necessary to lay aside his studies, and he accordingly “ put on his blue apron, washed mops, cleaned rooms, and became a professed and common drawer." "While in this menial employment, which unknown to himself, was preparing him more easily to discharge the duties of a servitor in college, his mind seems to have beer gradually becoming more affected with the things of religion. He composed two or three sermons, a fact which indicates an inclination already cherished for the sacred profession. He also broke off from romances, his former delight, and read Thomas a Kempis It is not difficult to observe the infuence which this book had upon his mind, and the modification which it produced in his character

. In prospect of obtaining a servitor's place at Oxford University, through the interest of some friends, he again resumed his studies at the grammar school; relinquished his idle and vicious pursuits and gave himself up to close application, and to a strict course of religious life. He united with the church, fasted often, and prayed much. After his admission to Pembroke College, at the age of eighteen, he appears to have spent much of his time alone, subjecting himself to a severe and self-mortifying discipline, by which he injudiciously affected his health, and lessened his influence. Happily, both for himself and for the church of Christ, he here became acquainted with the Rev. Charles Wesley, by whom he was introduced to the Rev. John Wesley, and a little circle of pious students, who were in the habit of meeting for mutual improvement; spending their hours together in prayer, and religious conversation. This little fellowship of brethren bore the name of Methodists, a name more than once before applied to persons of rigid piety, and now contemptuously bestowed upon Wesley and his associates, on account of their strictness and regularity in living; and which has been adopted as the designation of a large and respectable christian denomination. By his connection with this little association, Whitefield was greatly benefited. His devotedness to God was increased ; and he was withdrawn from his solitude, and from some of those self-torturing mortifications, which, though they may perhaps contribute to strenghten the martyr-like spirit of their subject, are yet at variance with that cheerful piety which best wins its way among men, and which afterwards so peculiarly marked this eminent servant of Christ. By exposure to extreme cold, and injudicious abstinence from food, during the season of Lent, joined to the deep and absorbing nature of his feelings, in view of his eternal interests, Whitefield had so far reduced his strength as to bring on a dangerous illness. His convictions of sin, we should judge from the glimpses which we are here and there permitted to obtain of his early exercises, must have been

pungent and distressing. His aims were high, and he could be intented with nothing short of an absolute assurance of his acceptance with God. This he finally obtained, being relieved of all his doubts and sears. An allusion to this period occurs in the flowing extracts from the Rev. Mr. Parsons' sermon, at the futeral of Whitefield:

“Christ became a principle of spiritual life in his soul, while he was an undergraduate at the university in Oxford. Before his conversion, he was a pharisee of the pharisees, as strict as ever Paul was, before God met him on his way to Damascus, according to his own declaration in his last sermon, which I heard him preach at Exeter, yesterday. He was, by means of reading, a very searching puritanical writer ; conSinced of the rottenness of all duties he had done, and the danger of a self-righteous foundation of hope. When he heard Christ speak to him in the gospel, he cried, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?And it seems as if, at that time, it had been made known to him that he was a chosen vessel, to bear the name of Jesus Christ through the British nation, and her colonies; to stand before kings and nobles, and all sorts of people, to preach Christ, and him crucified. From that time, the dawn of salvation had living power in his heart, and he had an ardent desire to furnish himself for the gospel ministry.”'

pp. 230, 231. In a sermon of his, taken in short hand by Joseph Gurney, ethich, though probably in some degree defective in phraseology, pet doubtless is correct in point of fact, Whitefield speaking of his own experience, says:

When I was sixteen years of age, I began to fast twice a week for thisty-six hours together, prayed many times a day, received the sacranient every Lord's day, fasting myself almost to death all the forty days of Lent

, during which I made it a point of duty never to go less than three times a day to public worship, besides seven times a day to my private prayers, yet I knew no more that I was to be born again in God, born a new creature in Christ Jesus, than if I was never born at all

. I had a mind to be on the stage, but then I had a qualm of conscience; I used to ask people, ‘Pray, can I be a player, and yet go to the sacrament and be a christian ? 0,' said they, “such a one, who is a player, goes to the sacrament.' Well, then,' said I, if that be the case, I will be a player;' and I thought to act my part for the devil as well as any one ; but blessed be God, he stopped me in my journey.

-I must bear testimony to my old friend, Mr. Charles Wesley; be put a book into my hands, called The Life of God in the Soul of Man

, whereby God showed me that I must be born again or be damned. How did my heart arise, how did my heart shudder, like a poor man

that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a di bankrupt

! yet shall I burn that book ? shall I put it by? or shall i search into it? I did, and holding the book' in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: “ Lord, if am not a christian, if I am not a real one, Lord God, for Jesus Christ's sake, show me wh christianity is, that I may not be damned at last.” I read a little fu ther, and the cheat was discovered; says the author, “they that know ar thing of religion, know it is a vital union with the son of God, Chri formed in the heart.' O, what a ray of divine light did then break i upon my poor soul! I fell to writing to all my brethren, to my sister talked to the students as they came in my room, put off all trifling, cor versation, put away all trifling books, and from that moment God ha been carrying on his blessed work in my

soul.' The change in his feelings appears to have been very marke and decisive. He thus describes his deliverance, and its happ results :

Notwithstanding my fit of sickness continued six or seven weeks, trust I shall have reason to bless God for it through the endless ages o eternity. For, about the end of the seventh week, after baving under gone innumerable buffetings of Satan, and many months of inexpressible trials, by night and day, under the spirit of bondage, God was pleased at length to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold on his dear Son by a living faith, and, by giving me the spirit of adoption, to seal me, as I humbly hope, even to the day of everlasting redemption But 0, with what joy, joy unspeakable, even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled, when the weight of sin went off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God, and a full assurance of faith, broke in upon my disconsolate soul! Surely it was the day of my espousals,-a day to be had in everlasting remembrance. At first my joys were like a spring-tide, and as it were, overflowed the banks. Go where I would, I could not avoid singing of psalms almost aloud; afterwards they became more settled, and, blessed be God, saving a few casual intervals, have abode and increased in my soul ever since.'

p.

18.

The candid observer will easily find an apology for Whitefield and his associates, in their rigid adherence to the strict and unnecessarily ascetic rules of life which they adopted, by a reference to the character of the times, and the universal disposition of men, in avoiding one extreme, to pass into the opposite one. A dead stagnation of spiritual life prevailed. Infidelity was lulling the conscience into a death-like slumber; the guardians of religion were too generally faithless to their high trust, and its power seemed almost gone. In such a state of things, reformers must necessarily be marked by something distinctive, calculated to attract notice, and set the irreligious world to thinking. Whitefield's illness, above mentioned, occasioned his leaving Oxford, and returning for a time to his native city. Here he devoted himself to a careful study of the bible, with Henry's Commentary, which he read on his knees, praying over every passage. Nor was he idle as respects

« PreviousContinue »