« VorigeDoorgaan »
EXTRACTS FROM THE LIFE OF GEORGE WHITEFIELD.
This pious and extraordinary minister was born at Gloucester, December 16, 1714. His father who was bred to the winetrade at Bristol, removed from thence to Gloucester, and kept an inn. He had six sons and one daughter. Of the sons George was the
youngest, who was only two years old when his father died; and he was brought up with great tenderness by his mother.
When he was between twelve and fifteen, he had made some progress in classical learning; and, we are told, that even then his eloquence began to appear in some puerile compositions written for the amusement of his school-fellows. But his rising genius was deprived of the usual means of improvement, through the decrease of his mother's trade; and he was obliged to assist her in carrying on the business of the inn. His turn of mind, however, though depressed, could not be extinguished; and in this very unfavourable situation, we are told, that he composed several sermons, and that the impressions of religion were very strong upon him. When he was about seventeen, he received the sacrament, and employed as much of his time as he could in prayer and reading, in fasting and meditation, and in all those devout exercises, which are the food and the delight at once of every religious mind.
About eighteen, he entered at Pembroke-College in Oxford, where he continued three years. At twenty-one, he was sent for by Dr. Benson, bishop of Gloucester, who told him, “ That though he had purposed to ordain none under three-and-twenty, yet he should reckon it his duty to ordain him whenever he applied. Upon which, at the earnest persuasion of his friends, he
prepared for taking orders. His behaviour on this occasion was very exemplary. He first studied the thirty-nine articles, that he might be satisfied of their being agreeable to scripture. Then, he examined himself by the qualifications of a minister mentioned in the New Testament, and by the questions that he knew were to be put to him at his ordination. On the Saturday, he was much in prayer for himself and those who were to be ordained with him. On the morning of his ordination, (which was at Gloucester, Sunday, June 20, 1736) he rose early, and again read, with prayer, St. Paul's epistles to Timothy, and, after his ordination, went to the Lord's table.
On the Sunday afterward she preached a sermon in the church, where he was baptized, to a very crowded auditory, on the neces. sity and benefit of religious society. His own remark upon this was; “ Last Sunday in the afternoon, I preached my first sermon in the church where I was baptized, and also first received the sacrament of the Lord's supper. Curiosity drew a large congregation together. The sight, at first, a little awed me. But I was comforted with a heart-felt sense of the divine presence: and soon found the advantage of having been accustomed to public speaking, when a boy at school; and of exhorting and teaching the prisoners, and poor people at their private houses, whilst at the university. By these means, I was kept from being daunted over much. As I proceeded, I perceived the fire kindled, till at last, though so young, and amidst a crowd of those who knew me in my 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 compbrint had been made to the bishop, that I drove fifteen mad, the first sermon. The worthy prelate, as I am informed, wished that the madness might not be forgotten, before next Sunday.”
The week following, he returned to Oxford, and took his bachelor's degree. And here he found full employment in taking care of the prisoners and the poor. But it was not long before he was invited to London. While he remained here letters came from the Messrs. Wesleys and Ingham, in Georgia, which made him long to go and help them. But not seeing his call clear, at the appointed time he returned to his little charge at Oxford. He now divided the day into three parts, allotting eight hours for sleep and meals, eight for study and retirement, and eight for reading prayers, catechizing, and visiting the people. Yet his mind still ran on going abroad. And now, in January, 1737, being fully convinced he was called of God thereto, he set all things in order, and went down to take leave of his friends in Gloucester. It was in this journey that God began to bless his ministry in an uncommon manner. Wherever he preached, amazing multitudes of hearers flocked together, in Gloucester, in Stone-house, in Bath, and in Bristol; so that the heat of the churches was scarce supportable. And the impressions made on the minds of many were no less extraordinary. After his return to London, while he was detained by general Oglethorpe, from week to week, and from month to month, it pleased God to bless his word still more. And he was indefatigable in his labour: generally on Sunday he preached four times, to exceeding large auditories; besides reading prayers twice or thrice, and walking to and fro ten or twelve miles.
As his popularity increased, opposition increased proportionably. Nor was he without opposition even from some of his friends. But under these discouragements, he had great comfort in meeting every evening with a band of religious intimates, to spend an hour in prayer, for the advancement of the gospel, and for all their acquaintance, so far as they knew their circumstances. In this he had uncommon satisfaction. Once he spent a whole night with them in prayer and praise; and sometimes at midnight, after he had been quite wearied with the labours of the day, he found his strength renewed in this excercise, which made him compose his sermon upon intercession. The nearer the time of his embarkation approached, the more affectionate and eager the people grew. Thousands and thousands of prayers were put up for him. They would run and stop him in the alleys of the churches, and follow him with wishful looks. But above all, it was hardest for him to part with liis weeping friends at St. Dunstan's, where he helped to administer the sacrament to them, after spending the night before in prayer: this parting was to him almost insupportable.
On December the 28th, he left London, and from Sunday, May 7th, 1738, till the latter end of August following, he made full proof of his ministry in Georgia, particularly at Savannah. It was now that he observed the deplorable condition of many children here; and now the first thought entered his mind of founding an orphan-house; for which he determined to raise contributions in England, if God should give him a safe return thither. In December following after a perilous passage by Ireland he did return to London: and on Sunday, January the '14th, 1739, he was ordained priest by his friend bishop Benson at ChristChurch, Oxford. The next day he came to London again; and on Sunday the 21st preached twice. But though the churches
were large, and crouded exceedingly, yet many hundreds stood in the church-yards, and hundreds more returned home. This put him upon the first thought of preaching in the open air. But when he mentioned it to some of his friends, they judged it to be mere madness. So he did not carry it into execution, till after he had left London. It was on Wednesday, February 21, that, finding all the church doors to be shut against him in Bristol, (besides that no church was able to contain one half of the congregation) at three in the afternoon, he went to Kingswood, and preached abroad, to near two thousand people. The colliers, he had heard, were very rude, and very numerous; so uncultivated, that nobody cared to go among them; neither had they any place of worship; and often, when provoked, they were a terror to the whole city of Bristol. He therefore looked upon the civilizing of these people, and much more, the bringing of them to the profession and practice of christianity, as a matter of great importance. “ I thought (says he) it might be doing the service of my Creator, who had a mountain for his pulpit, and the heavens for his sounding board; and who, when his gospel was refused by the Jews, sent his servants into the highways and hedges.” After much prayer, and many struggles with himself, he one day went to Hannam Mount, and, standing upon a hill, began to preach to about a hundred colliers, upon Matth. v. 1, 2, 3. This soon took air. At the second and third time the numbers greatly increased, till the congregation, at a moderate computation, amounted to near twenty thousand. But with what gladness and eagerness, many of these despised outcasts, who had never been in a church in their lives, received the word, is above description. “Having (as he writes) no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend to publicans, and came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The first discovery 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 coal pits. Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions, which (as the event proved) happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion. The change was visible to all, though numbers chose to impute it to any thing, . rather than the finger of God. As the scene was quite new, and I had just began to be an extempore preacher, it often occasioned many inward conflicts. Sometimes, when twenty thousand people were before me, I had not, in my own apprehension, a word to say, either to God or them. But I was never totally de