The history of the Gospel is the real record of the Supernatural in this world. We deny that “the age of miracles is past;“ and this humble volume—humble, yet of transcendent contents—shall sustain the denial. The miraculous system of Divine Revelation, far from having ceased, has advanced to a sublimer stage of development, suitable to the higher susceptibilities it has engendered in luau. Forty centuries of laborious education, with line upon line, precept upon precept, symbol upon symbol, and wonder upon wonder, reiterated upon the crude and sensuous susceptibilities of human nature, had but sufficed to introduce the glorious revelation of Omnipotence and Grace, which we name the era of our Lord.
In the fullness of times, Christ came: and the supernatural wonders, which attest the operation of God, took on thenceforth the spiritual nature and pure moral glory of his kingdom. Then first the Spirit of God was manifested as the occupant of the human soul; the tabernacle of God was with men, and he descended to “dwell” among us; spreading abroad the wonders of his power in a universal largess unto and upon all that believe. “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men.” Likened to a rushing, mighty wind, the Holy Ghost came down, surcharging even the common channels of life and intelligence in man; bursting forth as with excess and exuberance of power, in sensible as well as spiritual prodigies, for a time.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing, wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now, when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in. Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, these men are full of new wine.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, “Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit: and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of, smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the holy Ghost, lie hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.”
Now, when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest ‘of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then. Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off; even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the name day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common: and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Thus was the new order of supernatural manifestations initiated by the Holy Ghost. The primitive Revival was prolonged and extended until, within a brief period, the mighty accumulation of converts at Jerusalem threatened to preponderate over the sects that had hitherto shared the dominion of that religious metropolis, and alarmed them into desperate and furious persecution. The martyrdom of Stephen was the signal of a general onslaught, in which Saul of Tarsus took a conspicuous if not a leading part. The unresisting flock were dispersed before their enemies like chaff, and thus in the wisdom of Divine Providence, wide regions were at once overspread by a fugitive but witnessing church, and more than ever “mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed: "
“And they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havoc of’ the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
“I verily thought,” says Paul in his defense before Agrippa— “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. Arid I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests; at midday, 0 king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And he said,’ ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.’”
Speaking before his countrymen, he adds:
“And they that were with me saw the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said,’What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said unto me, ‘Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.’
“And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, ‘Brother Saul, receive thy sight.’ And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, ‘Tim God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldst know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”’
And the following connected particulars are added by Luke:
“And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And lie said, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.’ Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.’ But the Lord said unto him, ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the. Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.”
From this time forth and by this Apostle, the Gospel was proclaimed and the churches of Christ were planted, confirmed, and established, throughout Asia Minor and the islands and shores of the Mediterranean, embracing the whole world of intellect, letters, arts, commerce, and empire, at that day. No obstruction stayed the triumphant progress of that Gospel, so witnessed and thus delivered to the charge of faithful successors. Repeated and overwhelming persecutions proved but flood-tides that swept it onward to universal dominion. Nothing stayed it, till it reached the fatal eminence of imperial power. Thence to its next great revival is a dark interval of a thousand years, in which the eye pauses on no resting place.
That the Spirit of God, and He who said to his church, “Lo, I am with you always,” were inactive or inefficient during this millennium of desolation, it was impiety to conceive. Great preparatory processes, commensurate with this great extent of time, though perhaps inscrutable as yet to our philosophy, were doubtless wrought in secret and disguise, under all the dark history of Romanized Europe in the middle ages. For out of that mysterious laboratory of the Holy Spirit and Divine Providence," in the fullness of time", sprang the stupendous spiritual movement of the Reformation - not, indeed, of any virtue in the chaotic materials, but by virtue for an indwelling Spirit who, far from having forsaken the church, had doubtless never for one hour suspended His all-wise and almighty work, though lost to human view, and almost forgotten by man, until the offspring of the wondrous task was ready for the birth.
Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people—deepening as if to endless night. If a star or two appeared, it was only to be quenched apparently in clouds of devastating war. None could see a harbinger or promise of returning day, at the period when the secret work of Providence was ripe, and the morning watch came on unperceived—and God said, let there be light! Then Wicliffe, the morning star of the Reformation, arose before the dawn, In the fourteenth century, clothed in the light of a reopened Bible. Soon after, in the beginning of the fifteenth, John Huss caught the reflection, and added to it the flame of his martyrdom. The revival of letters advanced. Twenty-four universities arose in less than a hundred years. In the midst of this movement, the art of printing!“ given, imparting an impetus to literature, which had been otherwise inconceivable, and providing the swift and subtle agent by which the infant Reformation was to surprise and overpower its great adversary unawares. At the same juncture the Mohammedan power overwhelming the Eastern metropolis, swept the remnant of Greek laming into Europe. Finally, in and about the last quarter of the same memorable century, Luther, Zuinglius, Cranmer, Melanchthon, Knox, and Calvin, with other mighty champions of the truth, were born. Little thought the simple mothers what they had in their cradles. But God’s time was at baud, and the final preparations for his work were now masked under the form of a few poor men’s babes.
O God! when thou wentest forth before thy people; when thou didst march through the wilderness; the earth shook, the heavens also dropped, at the presence of God . ... The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published It In the beginning of the sixteenth century the unlooked-for heralds came, proclaiming free salvation by Christ crucified: first, Lefevre, Farel, Briconnet, Chatelain, and their friends, in France; then Zuinglius, in Switzerland, and almost at the same moment the giant of the Reformation, Martin Luther in Germany—each attended by a host of zealous and able coadjutors, both in church and state—Ecolampadius, Melanchthon, Calvin—preachers, scholars, princes, and nobles: soon Tyndale, with his printed English Testament, in England~ Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and John Knox, in Scotland; John Taussen, in Denmark; John Laski, in Poland; Olaus Petri and Laurentius, in Sweden, and humbler names without number, in every quarter; .11 the arose at once, or within little more than a quarter of a century, by the mysterious spirit and providence of God, filled Europe with their doctrine, and triumphantly established the truth of the Gospel in the countries now Protestant, within periods varying from ten to fifty years from the date of this marvellous uprising.
Much, indeed, of what is commonly called the Reformation, belongs to a kingdom that is only of this world. Political power and ambition, political alliance and protection, political means and appliances, were the bane of its spirituality and purity, and while these elements seemed indeed to preserve it from extinction, it is probable that in some cases, as in France, they were also its ruin.
The struggle for liberty, beginning in the struggle for divine truth, was long identified with it, and fastened its changing fortunes upon the cause of’ the gospel. The progress of the kingdom of Christ through this stormy chaos of good and evil, is what all can witness, but none can clearly trace, save the All-wise Being who directs both the operation and the result.
Now, however, the confusion is measurably cleared. The vexed elements have gradually settled and separated; the contradiction in nature, which severs the heavenly from all earthly kingdoms, begins to be apprehended; and we can contemplate the Reformation proper, in distinction from the mere politico-religious changes attached to it. To contemplate this pure heavenly object, we must seek it in the hearts of God’s people.
Eminent illustrations of its power and quality will be found in another part of this volume, exhibiting the essence of the Reformation, which history cannot represent. So much of the historical Reformation was the mere creation or rather fiction, of law, that the measure of true religious improvement effected in the Protestantized churches is often left extremely dubious. But here in the inner life whose records are preserved to us, we have a veritable, unambiguous substance. Here is the revived power of the doctrine of the Cross of Christ; here is the secret of a revolution equal, and we may hope more than equal, to that which in a similar length of time (three centuries) had at first broken the power of paganism as that of popery is now broken, and placed Christianity on the throne of the Caesars. Here is once more a supernatural wonder, an operation of the Holy Ghost, in common language a revival, a restoration of life, a spiritual resurrection, of the most amazing and glorious character. Scarcely less sudden and overwhelming than the descent of Pentecost, with the subsequent general spreading of the gospel by Paul, and perhaps hardly inferior to the same in the multitude of its converts and the number and piety of its martyrs, while to all appearance beyond comparison with it in the permanence of its impulse and the magnitude of its immediate fruits—it is identified with the primitive revival in its central principle, Christ crucified, and closely resembles it as a spiritual springtime awakening at the word of God out of the profoundest depth of wintry desolation, but not without a patient sowing of precious seed long previous, and an unconscious softening and preparation of the common heart by Divine Providence.
The reforming preachers came to a people long involved in night; but it had been a night of storm and tempest— no stagnant, putrescent, Asiatic calm. The mass of men were strangers to leisure for luxurious vices and corrupt philosophies their minds were vigorous, simple, and earnest. Neither were they hardened by habit to a disregarded gospel. The excessive wickedness in high places which had almost blotted out the memory of true Christianity, had saved the common people from that most deadly, depraving and indurating form of sin, the disbelief and contempt of revealed truth and a crucified Saviour.
The news of such a Saviour once announced, flew like the winds among “a people prepared for the Lord” more perfectly perhaps than we can guess, by the very miseries of their state; and being welcomed with exultation, were cherished with a tenacity which death and torture could not relax.
The great and only apostasy foretold by the apostles having passed, we naturally look for a steady forward movement of the kingdom of Christ from thence; and to this day we are not disappointed. Successive epochs of revival have continued to develop a growing freedom and fullness in the Gospel, as apprehended by its votaries, with enlarged designs and advanced methods of union and effort for the evangelization of mankind. It will be found remarkable, upon a slight examination, that the Gospel was first offered in the simple, concrete form, of adherence to the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, leaving the religious exercises and doctrines involved in this act of submission and faith, to be developed progressively in the practice of religion, by the teachings of the Holy Spirit. The fact of Christ’s resurrection was the single symbol of faith presented to the people by the Jewish apostles on the day of Pentecost. “God bath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In every subsequent demonstration of the Spirit, the person of Christ crucified has been in like manner the center of faith and attraction, but with some special and explicit disclosure of the mode of salvation by Him, demanded by the times, and leading to important practical enlargement and advance.
The great development and elucidation of the mode of salvation given through the apostle of the Gentiles, was such as to lead naturalizing philosophers who are ignorant of the common source of life in the person of Christ, to suppose that it was nothing less than another gospel, and a doctrinal schism from the church at Jerusalem, of which Paul was the leader I The substance of his teaching was, “that a man is justified by faith [in Christ as his Saviour without the works of the law ;“ and in this shape the gospel filled the old Roman world. The form in which the same gospel revived at the Reformation, was justification by faith in Christ, not only without the works of the law, but without the observances of religion—without, in neither case signifying in the absence of, the works or observances referred to, but simply that such works or observances, however obligatory, contribute nothing to the justification of sinners. The old Jewish notion of sacerdotal mediums of grace, against which Paul began the contest, had taken and held possession of the church in a modernized form, which the Reformation was (or rather is) to eradicate we trust finally.
We come now to a new revival epoch, in which the fact of regeneration was to be brought out prominently into the Christian consciousness, in connection with the gift of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Up to the present time, we have little further to say of continental Europe, as touching the direct and marked advance of Christianity. The time is not yet come. Turning to’ Britain and America, we find one more great period of this kind to examine and understand.
Here the Reformation, having been less speedily settled, had time and occasion, through protracted conflict, to’ develop fully its distinguishing feature, which we have defined as justification by faith, independent of the observances of religion, or in other words, of the church. On the Continent, the Reformation, wherever it was successful, was settled by law, within the lifetime of a single generation at farthest; and therefore stopped very near its starting-point, of justification independent of the Church of Rome. The genius of British liberty admitted of no such incomplete and inconsistent conclusion. Although the accession of Elizabeth early terminated the political sway of Rome, yet the conflict with Romish church principles at home, continued, bitter and bloody, down to the period of the Revolution, about a century later.
All that period embracing the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and the two Charleses, was marked by seasons of furious persecution, even to the death, of those who claimed an absolute justification in Christ, and openly rejected the intervention of the church as the channel of atonement. Such was the substance of what was called Nonconformity, and such was the substance of the quarrel between it and the established church, notwithstanding that many more superficial questions were often made perhaps unnecessarily prominent as occasions of dispute. The names of Baxter and Bunyan, and the history of the Scottish Covenanters, need only to be mentioned in illustration of the character and sufferings of the true Protestants of this period.
Their strength and their importance to the spiritual condition and future of Britain, are illustrated by the fact that no less than two thousand ministers in a then small kingdom, sacrificed their places by refusing to obey the Act of Uniformity under the second Charles. There is reason, however, to believe that the exodus of Nonconformists to America may yet prove to have been the most important of the many inestimable fruits of that great conflict. The English church had been “reformed” by act of Parliament under Edward VI. Counter-reformed in. the same way under Queen Mary, and re-reformed by Queen Elizabeth—the great body of the clergy holding fast their benefices with unscrupulous tenacity throughout these vicissitudes. Nineteen-twentieths of Queen Mary’s clergy became Queen Elizabeth’s clergy without compunction, and certainly without conversion. The Reformation was not in them, assuredly. It is not surprising therefore, that gene rally speaking both religious knowledge and morals, among people and clergy, remained at the lowest ebb; and that the church, after being purged of the most of its piety and learning by the Act of Uniformity, continued to descend in the moral scale, carrying the people with it, until, after the accession of the House of Hanover, the scandalous condition of the country was perhaps unequalled in Europe. Bishop Burnet says that candidates for ordination were commonly quite unacquainted with the Bible, and unable even to give an account of the statements in the church catechism. When they re-appeared before him to obtain institution to a living, it was still apparent in many that they had not “read the Scriptures nor any other good book since they were ordained.” “Of all the ministers of religion he had seen in the course of his extensive travels— Papists, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Dissenters—they were the most remiss in their labors, and the least severe in their lives.”
A writer of the time refers to family prayer as “a custom entirely neglected by men of any business or station.” Lady Mary Wortley wrote in 171O, that there were “more atheists among the fine ladies than among the loosest sort of rakes.” Ignorance and drunkenness, it is stated, were the predominant qualities of the working classes; licentiousness and infidelity of the higher. Montesquien, who visited England in 1729—31, protested that the English had no religion at all. “If any one,” he said, “spoke of it, everybody laughed.” Low as religion had sunk in France, he confessed that he himself had not enough of it to satisfy his countrymen; and yet he found that he had too much to suit English society. Of the clergy, even as late as 1781, Cowper could write without fear of contradiction
Except afew with Eli’s spirit blest,
Hophni and Phineas may describe the rest! *
In the American colonies, although for obvious reasons, these wretched extremes of impiety were not to be looked for, yet from their intimate connection with the mother country, it was but natural that an unprecedented dearth of religion and deterioration of morals should prevail at this time. Such was the condition of the English people, on both sides the Atlantic, on the eve of the Great Awakening of the 18th century. “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work for they ‘have made void Thy law.”
It is affecting to review the part, which fell to the Evangelical Protestants of Britain, in the 17th century, especially. The commanding political elements of the Reformation lent visible dignity and hope to the Protestant party, in the most worldly eyes, and cheered the natural man with constant exercise and achievement throughout all vicissitudes. All was otherwise after the legal Reformation was settled, and the battle remained to be fought with spiritual weapons alone, in political helplessness, social contempt, and the absence of every support and resource upon which men can naturally depend. Stripped and emptied of everything but Christ, the believers of this time became preeminent in faith and patience, in the midst of overwhelming wickedness. Nor was it given them to see aught with eyes of the great issue of their weak and despised toils. They were sternly tried to the end. Their place in the history of the church was of the first order, their influence was to be momentous, their life and teaching was the seed from which God would raise up the church of Britain and America, which we now see and shall see; and affliction and oppression could neither be withheld nor relaxed, for them, until the severely winnowed wheat was all sown of pure faith, unmixed with any elements of mere nature which ruin itself could crush out. They sowed in tears, and but for Christ in despair; wasting and diminishing they sowed on, while the seed fell into the ground and died, the wintry autumn grew more desolate and sere, and one by one they closed their eyes on frozen fields of buried grain which seemed to mock the hope of resurrection.
Thus they left it, at the period of unprecedented profanity and lewdness, which we have described as occurring in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Who could have thought that the springtime was at hand, and the harvesters of God were already preparing to go forth to the greatest ingathering of souls that English eyes had ever seen? The sacred poet, Watts, survived in mellow age, like the apostle John, an unscathed relic of ruthless times that seemed to have respected in spite of themselves the rapt serenity of his life, and left it un-invaded.
Philip Doddridge, a younger man, almost a child of that century, was entering a career of popularity and usefulness as a dissenting minister; destined to welcome and promote, though he bad no immediate share in originating, the new order of things in religion which was about to arise. Besides these two, we recall no eminent men of God then surviving to link the new revival personally with that period of patience and faithfulness unto death, which had waned to such a cheerless close in the almost undisputed wickedness of the time..
About a quarter of the century had passed away, when a boy at Oxford, Charles Wesley by name, began to be concerned about the conscientious improvement of his time, which had before been lost in idle diversions, and commenced diligently to observe the method of study prescribed by the statutes of the University. Others joined him, forming a little society, distinguished by observance of the method of study and of the sacramental observances and means of grace. A thing so extraordinary in that day as serious attention to study and religious worship, even on the part of a handful of boys, could not pass without observation and ridicule, and young Wesley and his friends, from their regard to the method of study, soon went by the slang epithet of " the Methodists ." John Wesley who was five years older than Charles, now four years a serious and devout clergyman of the Church of England,, at this time returned to Oxford as a tutor, and joining the little society of “Methodists,” became a master-spirit among them.
Their earnestness and austerity in religion deepened to a wonderful extent, and exhibited itself in unbounded self-denials, charities, fasting, prayers, and labors, in all which they found no spiritual peace, yet persevered in spite of opposition, defamation, and contempt.
Four or five years had thus passed over the heads of these young devotees, when an indigent student entered as a servitor, defraying his college expenses by performing menial offices in the rooms of the wealthier young men in the university. This was George Whitefield, then eighteen years of age, both by nature and grace marked as the greatest beyond comparison of those among whom he moved as a menial. He was strongly attracted towards the Wesley’s and their associates, by their earnest religious life, but from the poverty of his station dared not intrude himself upon their notice. But having been named to Charles Wesley by a poor woman whom he had employed on an errand of charity, he was sought out, and introduced to the little brotherhood, of which he became one of the most zealous members.
It was among their rules, for example, frequently “to interrogate themselves whether they have been simple and recollected, whether they have prayed with fervor, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday noon; if they have used a collect at nine, twelve, and three o’clock; duly meditated on Sunday, from three to four, on Thomas a Kempis; mused on Wednesday and Friday, from twelve to one, on the Passion,” etc. “I now began,” says Whitefield, “like them, to live by rule, and to pick up every fragment of my time, that not a moment of it might be lost. Like them, having no weekly sacrament at our college, although the rubric required it, I received it every Sunday at Christ Church. I joined with them in keeping the stations, by fasting Wednesday and Fridays, and left no means unused, which I thought would lead me nearer to Christ. By degrees, I began to leave off eating fruits and such like, and gave the money I usually spent in that way to the poor. Afterwards, I chose the worst sort of food, though my place furnished me with variety. My apparel was mean. I thought it unbecoming a penitent to have his hair powdered. I wore woollen gloves, a patched gown, and dirty shoes. It was now suggested to me that Jesus Christ was among the wild beasts when he was tempted, and that I ought to follow his example; and being willing, as I thought, to imitate Jesus Christ, after supper I went into Christ Church walk, near our college, and continued in silent prayer nearly two hours, sometimes lying on my face, sometimes kneeling upon my knees. The night being stormy, gave me awful thoughts of the Day of Judgment. The next da1y, I repeated the same exercise at the same place. After this, the holy season of Lent came on, which our friends kept very strictly, eating no flesh during the six weeks, except on Saturdays and Sundays. I abstained frequently on Saturdays also, and ate nothing on the other days (except Sunday) but sage tea without sugar, and coarse bread. I constantly walked out in the cold mornings till one part of my hands was quite black.”
This truly Romish course of penance and austerity finally exhausted nature, and threw him into an alarming illness, which lasted seven weeks. This sickness Whitefield calls, in his journal, “a glorious visitation.” The constant brotherly attentions of his fellow-ascetics, the Wesley’s, with their maxims and citations, were ineffectual now, to comfort or direct his mind. His course of externals, with the energy of the natural man, which had much to do in prompting and sustaining it, was effectually broken up, and his thoughts communed with his own heart and the word of God. He spent much of his time in reading the Greek Testament, and in prayer. He gained more clear, truthful, and affecting views of his own sinfulness, and saw how hopeless was the effort to remove a sense of guilt by religions observances. “ One day,” he informs us, “perceiving an uncommon drought and noisome clamminess in my mouth, and using things to allay my thirst but in vain, it was suggested to me that when Jesus Christ cried out ‘I thirst,’ his sufferings were near over. Upon this I threw myself on the bed, and cried out, I thirst, I thirst.’ Soon after, I perceived my load to go off; a spirit of mourning was taken from me, and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in the Lord.” “When I said those words, I thirst, I thirst, my soul was in an agony; I thirsted for a clear discovery of my pardon through Jesus Christ, and the seal of the Spirit. I was at the same time enabled to look up with faith to the glorious Lord Jesus as dying for sinners, and for some time I could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was.”
Whitefield was now, like the apostle whose life his own most resembles, ready for action. Though strongly restrained by a humble diffidence, his scruples were providentially overcome, and he was speedily ordained and commenced his career as an Evangelist, at the age of twenty-one. “The discovery of a complete and gratuitous salvation filled with ecstasy a spirit prepared to appreciate it, and, from their great, deep breaking, his affections thenceforward flowed, impetuous and uninterrupted, in the one channel of love to the Saviour. He traversed England, Scotland, and Ireland, for four and thirty years, and crossed the Atlantic thirteen times, proclaiming the love of God and his great gift to man. A bright and exulting view of the atonement’s sufficiency was his theology; delight in God and rejoicing in Christ Jesus were his piety; and a compassionate solicitude for the souls of men was his ruling passion.” Delivered like Paul from the sorest bondage of the law, he became like him, in an eminent sense, Christ’s freeman; lie loved all who loved his Saviour, with an equal affection; and his expanded spirit, incapable of a narrow conception, added another beautiful parallel to the earnestness with which Paul trampled upon every thought of a party for himself “sent not to baptize but to preach the Gospel,” and thankfully washing his hands of any possible imputation of that leadership which lesser good men supposed it important to secure.
The conversion of the Wesleys was deferred till after a longer, if perhaps less acute, experience of the law. “I was convinced more than ever,” says John Wesley, “of the exceeding height and breadth and depth of the law of God. The light flowed in so mightily upon my soul that everything appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help, and resolved not to prolong the time of obeying him, as I had never done before. And by my continued endeavor to keep his whole law, inward and outward, to the best of my power, I was persuaded that I should be accepted of him, and that I was even then in a state of salvation.” In 1735, he went to Georgia as a missionary to the Indians, where he “spent his whole time in works of piety and mercy, and distributed his income so profusely in charity that for many months together he had not one shilling in the house. In the prosecution of his work he exposed himself to every change of season, frequently slept on the ground under the dews of night in summer, and in winter with his hair and clothes frozen to the earth. On his homeward voyage, the language of his still restless heart was:
‘I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh! Who shall convert me? Who is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion; I can talk well; nay, I believe myself safe, while no danger is present; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit, is troubled; nor can I say, To die is gain.’ A few days after his arrival in London, he met with Peter Bohler, a minister of the Moravian Church, ‘by whom,’ he says, ‘in the hand of the great God, I was clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved with the full Christian salvation,’ and ‘who amazed me more and more, by the accounts he gave of the fruits of living faith, and the holiness and happiness which he affirmed to attend it.’
On the 24th of May 1738, Wesley emerged out of his darkness into marvellous light, and experienced for the first time the full liberty of the sons of God. ‘In the evening,’ he say’s, ‘ I went, very unwillingly, to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change, which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins—even mine—and saved me from the law of sin and death.’”
“His brother Charles was also made partaker of the same grace. They had passed together through the briers and thorns, through the perplexities and shadows, of the legal wilderness, and the hour of their deliverance was not far separated. Bohler visited Charles in his sickness at Oxford; but the ‘Pharisee within’ was somewhat offended when the honest German shook his head at learning that his hope of salvation rested upon ‘his best endeavors.’ After his recovery, the reading of Haliburton’s Life produced in him a sense of his want of that faith which brings peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Bohler visited him again in London; and he began seriously to consider the doctrine, which he urged upon him. Luther on the Galatians then fell into his hands; and on reading the preface he observes, ‘I marvelled that we were so soon removed from him that called us into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel. Who would believe that our church had been founded on this important article of justification by faith alone?’
“On Whitsunday, May 21st, Charles Wesley awoke in hope and expectation of soon obtaining the object of his wishes, the knowledge of God reconciled in Christ Jesus. In reading various portions of Scripture on that day, he was enabled to view Christ as set forth to be a propitiation for his sins through faith in his blood; and he received that peace and rest in God which he so earnestly sought.”
Nor were these three the only Apostles whom God raised up from the little circle of “methodical” devotees at Oxford. There were Ingham, and Broughton, and Habersham afterwards of Georgia, among them, with others who afterwards became useful in the great work, according as the Lord gave to every one. Romaine was at Oxford then, but avoided and ‘despised them for their “singularity.” Benjamin Ingham filled an important part, both directly and indirectly, leading to the conversion of one of the most efficient laborers in this period, the celebrated Countess of Huntington. Full of ardent zeal, he accompanied the Wesley’s to Georgia, and with them returned to proclaim the newfound gospel in his native country of Yorkshire, where he preached “with marvelous power,” and was speedily shut out from the pulpits of the Establishment by ecclesiastical censure. Lady Margaret Hastings heard of his fame and invited him to Ledstone Hall, where his good news were joyfully received. She was a sister of the Earl of Huntington, whose gifted lady was among the many whose hearts the Lord had touched in secret and awakened to the claims of his holy law, before there were any to direct them to the Saviour. Lady Huntington’s heart had been thus touched from early childhood, and at the very time when the Oxford “Methodists” were groping anxiously’ in their cloister for righteousness by the works of the law and the church, she, a young bride in the midst of the splendors and excitements of the highest society, was striving in a similar manner after the same thing, with prayers, fastings, charities, and scrupulous devotion to every duty and ‘ordinance. When her sister, Lady Margaret, unfolded her new religious experience, and said, “Since I have known and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, I have been as happy as an angel,” Lady Huntington was astonished and alarmed. She knew nothing of such peace, although she supposed that she had neglected nothing that could tend to holiness and the satisfaction of the conscience. She fell under keener conviction of sin, and the intense conflict that ensued in her soul was the occasion of severe illness, which superadded the terrors of death to the alarm of a guilty conscience, and broke down her spirit in helpless despair at the feet of Jesus. “Then it was that the words of Lady Margaret came laden with wonderful meaning. ‘I too will wholly cast myself on Jesus Christ for life and salvation,’ was her last refuge; and from her bed she lifted up her heart to God for pardon and mercy through the blood of his Son. With streaming eyes she cast herself on her Saviour: ‘Lord, I believe ; help thou mine unbelief.’ Immediately the scales fell from her eyes; doubt and distress vanished ; joy and peace filled her bosom. With appropriating faith, she exclaimed, ‘My Lord, and my God!’’
From that moment her disease took a favorable turn; she was restored to health, and what was better, to newness of life. On her recovery, she sent for John and Charles Wesley, then in London, and also newly converted to a lively faith, to come and visit her, expressing a warm interest in their labors, and bidding them God speed in the great and glorious work of urging men to repentance and to heaven. This was in the year 1739, and Lady Huntington was at the age of thirty-two.” The character of her life thenceforward is epitomized in the following energetic passage from one of her letters to Doddridge.
"I hope you will never care about the ceremony of time in your letters to me, but just when attended with greatest ease to yourself, for we both agree that the one thing worth living for must be, proclaiming the love of God to man in Christ Jesus. As for me, I want no holiness he does not give me, and I am satisfied with every misery he does not redeem me from, that in all things I may feel ' without him I can do nothing.
Lady Huntington appears to have been the leading lay instrumentality in the great religious movement of her day. She devoted her life and fortune to the gospel, with the zeal and singleness of an apostle. Her high station, adorned by a consistency and fidelity, which never quailed before the scoff or the malice of a dissolute aristocracy, became incalculably influential in promoting the spread of truth.
Her prayer meetings among ladies of her own rank; her fortitude in braving their scorn by personal expostulation; her mansion thrown open for a preaching station to the despised " Methodists;" her powerful staff of chaplains, with some of whom, accompanied by her family and friends, she made repeated and extended tours of evangelism in destitute or darkened regions – usually taking her summer recreation, or travelling for health, in this way; in her widowhood, her retrenchment of the expenses deemed indispensable to the dignity of her station, in order to meet the demands of an insatiable liberality in the support of the gospel; the numerous chapels built, and preachers supported by her own means, in different parts of the country ; a prosperous college established and supported for the training of godly ministers ; her prompt secession from the Church of England, when forced to choose between this painful step and the silencing of certain of her chaplains, who then preached in no less than sixty-seven chapels of “Lady Huntington’s connection “ these and many other works of which we can give no impression here, prolonged to the very end of nature in her eighty-fourth year, and crowned with humble renunciation of herself and all her works, are among the deathless traits of her ever-glorious and solitary example.
The rising work of grace was early signalized by the conversion of desperate reprobates who were seized in the very van of the audacious ungodliness of the day, and carried over in triumph by the mighty power of God, to a stand of like prominence on the side of holiness and the gospel. Of such was the celebrated Colonel Gardiner, whose astonishing conversion and reformation; from ten to fifteen years before the date of those just recounted, will be found in another part of this volume. Like wonders fitly accompanied this work of omnipotence in its progress through an age chiefly distinguished by gross impiety. The scoffing Walpole wrote truly, “the Methodists love your great sinners, and truly they make an abundant harvest.” The regenerating power of a living faith in Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, appropriately came out in a glorious prominence in such an age, both in the miracles of the Spirit and in the preaching of His witnesses.
Whitefield says of his preaching: “the doctrine of the new birth made its way like lightning into the hearers’ consciences.” This doctrine had become very generally lost to the Christian consciousness itself, both in Old and New England, and was now commonly treated by the religious classes as a wild and dangerous vagary of enthusiasm. Even in New England, it was scarcely recognized as a condition of church membership. The work of the time was therefore to give it a practical demonstration, and a root in the heart of the church, which could never be shaken.
At the very moment when these mighty instruments of’ the Spirit were being forged in the fires of conviction and tempered by the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, in England, a “surprising work of God” was witnessed in the then colony of Massachusetts, under the leading instrumentality of President Edwards. “The Great Awakening,” as it has been commonly designated, doubtless the most important event in American history, both in its spiritual and temporal consequences, first appeared in power at Northampton about 1735. Upwards of a year of growing seriousness, heightened by a succession of solemn events in the little community, had passed; “ and then it was,” continues President Edwards, “in the latter part of December (1734), that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work among us; and there were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.
“Presently upon this a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and all ages; the noise among the dry bones waxed louder and louder; all other talk but about spiritual and eternal things was soon thrown by; all the conversation in all companies, and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business. Other discourse when of the things of religion would scarcely be tolerated in any company. Religion was with all classes the great concern, and the world was a thing only by the by. The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it: the engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid; it appeared in their very countenances. There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ.
“This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in. the town; so that in the’ spring and summer following, anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy, and yet so full of distress as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. In all companies, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of and seen in the midst of them. And even at weddings, which formerly were occasions of mirth and jollity, there was now no discourse of anything but the things of religion, and no appearance of any but spiritual mirth.
“So far as I, by looking back, can judge, this work appears to me to have been at the rate at least of four persons in a day, or near thirty in a week, take one with another, for five or six weeks together. If I may be allowed to declare anything that appears to me probable in a thing of this nature, I hope that more than three hundred souls were savingly brought home to Christ in this town, in the space of half a year (how many more I don’t guess); and about the same number of males as females.
“In. the month of March the people in South Hadley began to be seized with deep concern about the things of religion, which very soon became universal; and the work of God has been very wonderful there, not much, if anything, short of what it has been here, in proportion to the size of the place. About the same time it began to break forth in the west part of Suffleld (where it has also been very great), and it soon spread into all parts of the town. It next appeared at Sunderland, and soon overspread the town; and I believe was for a season not less remarkable than it was here. About the same time it began to appear in a part of Deerfield, called Green River, and afterwards filled the town, and there has been a glorious work there: it began also to be manifest in the south part of Hatfield, in a place called the Hill, and after that the whole town, in the second week in April, seemed to be seized, as it were at once, with concern about the things of religion; and the work of God has been great there. There has been also a very general awakening at West Springfield and Long Meadow; the same in Enfield; spring field, Westfield, Hadley, Northfield, and a large number of the towns of Connecticut.
“But this shower of Divine blessing has been yet more extensive: there was no small degree of it in some parts of’ New Jersey; especially the Rev. Mr. William Tennent, a minister, who seemed to have such things much at heart, told me of a very great awakening of many in a place called the Mountains, under the ministry of one Mr. Cross ; and of a very considerable revival of religion in another place, under the ministry of his brother, the Rev. Mr. Gilbert Tennent; and also at another place, under the ministry of a very pious young gentleman, a Reformed Dutch minister, whose name was Frelinghuysen.”
We have already seen that while the Awakening was breaking out in Northampton, Whitefield was entering on his wonderful career in the mother country. He preached his first sermon in 1736, and drove fifteen of’ his hearers mad, according to the account reported to the bishops, by the scandalized and astonished, observers. “In preaching that men of all ages and conditions must be ‘born again’ or never ‘see the kingdom of heaven,’ though there were some in the land who believed it, he found himself practically alone, going forth as the herald of a doctrine which the public agreed to consider as new.” Critics of a later day have discovered, to their astonishment, that the sermons, which then turned the world upside down, were composed of but common thoughts, simply expressed, even to tameness. But it has been well retorted, what has made those thoughts common? They were not common when he began to utter them, but astonishing, especially in England, and to a considerable extent in this country also. The effect, which God wrought by them, through the consecrated genius of this wonderful orator, was certainly tremendous, both immediately and remotely.
Whitefield was an organ for the truth, expressly fitted to this day and to his own country, where his great work was performed. The means and circumstances of the revival differed noticeably and not unaccountably, in the old country, with its dissolute Establishment, its gay and voluptuous aristocracy, and its ignorant common people, from those of the same work among the sober, educated, and self-governing people of New England. For the former, popular eloquence seemed an indispensable means of’ grace, which in the latter have been much less in request, and have been attended with much less beneficial results. The same difference is observable in a remarkable instance at the present day.
Whitefield’s first sermon was preached in his native parish at Gloucester, in his twenty-second year. He then went to London, where the success of the “boy preacher,” as he was called, was instantaneous, and unprecedented among persons of all ranks. In many of the city churches he proclaimed the glad tidings of great joy to multitudes, who were powerfully affected.
Lord and Lady Huntington constantly attended wherever he preached, and Lady Anne Frankland became one of the first fruits of his ministry, among the nobility, of the metropolis. While at London, such multitudes assembled that it was necessary to place constables at the doors, both within and without, and on Sunday mornings in the latter months of the year, long before day, you might have seen the streets filled with people going to hear him, with lanterns in their hands.
Leaving London in about two months, he went down to labor for a friend, among a poor and illiterate people in Hampshire, where he was reached by a missionary call from the Wesley’s, in Georgia, which he enthusiastically accepted. While preparing for his departure, and taking leave of his friends in Bristol, Bath, and other places, he continued to preach with increasing power and fame.
In Bristol, where he preached five times a week, “It was wonderful,” he says, “to see how the people hung upon the rails of the organ loft, climbed upon the leads of the church, and made the church itself so hot with their breath, that the steam would fall from the pillars like drops of rain. Sometimes almost as many would go away for want of room as came in, and it was with great difficulty I got into the desk to read prayers or preach. Persons of all ranks gave me private invitations to their houses, and many made me large offers if I would not go abroad.” When he came to London, those who had heard him before compelled him to preach almost incessantly. He preached nine times a week, and thousands went away from the largest churches, unable to gain admittance.
Whitefield had undoubtedly a dramatic genius of the most extraordinary power, but disclosed and called into play by nothing less than the glorious gospel of the blessed God. "He had a voice of rich compass, which could equally thrill over Moorfeilds in musical thunder, or whisper its secret in every private ear; and to this tuneful voice he added a most expressive eloquent action. Improved by conscientious practice, and instinct with his earnest nature, this elocution was the acted sermon, and by its pantomimic portrait enabled the eye to anticipate each rapid utterance, and helped the memory to treasure up the palpable ideas . . . . His thoughts were possessions, and his feelings were transformations; and if he spoke because he felt, his hearers understood because they ‘saw. They were not only enthusiastic amateurs, like Garriek, who ran to weep and tremble at his bursts of passion, but even the colder critics of the Walpole school were surprised into momentary sympathy and reluctant wonder.
Lord Chesterfield was listening in Lady Huntingdon's pew when Whitfield was comparing the benighted sinner to a blind beggar on a dangerous road. The beggars little dog get away from him when skirting the edge of a precipice, and he is left to explore the path with his iron-shod staff. On the very verge of the cliff this blind guide (the staff) slips through his fingers and skims away down the abyss. All unconscious, its owner stoops down to regain it, and stumbling forward—’ Good Good! He is gone!’ shouted Chesterfield, who had been watching with breathless alarm the blind man’s movements, and who jumped from his seat to save the catastrophe. But the glory of Whitefield’s preaching was its heart-kindled and heart-melting gospel. But for this all his bold strokes and brilliant surprises might have been no better than the rhetorical triumphs of Kirwan and other pulpit dramatists. He was an orator, but he only sought to be an evangelist.” Hear him entreat:
“I beseech you, in love and compassion, to come to Jesus. Indeed, all I say is in love to your souls. And if I could be but an instrument of bringing you to Jesus, I should not envy, but rejoice in your happiness, however much you were exalted. If I was to make up the last of the train of the companions of the blessed Jesus, it would rejoice me to see you above me in glory. I could willingly go to prison or to death for you, so I could but bring one soul from the devil’s strongholds, into the salvation, which is by Christ Jesus. Come then to Christ, every one that hears me this night. Come, come, my guilty brethren; I beseech you, for your immortal soul’s sake, come to Christ. Methinks I could speak till midnight unto you. Would you have me go and tell my Master that you will not come, and that I have spent my strength in vain? I cannot bear to carry such a message to him. I would not, indeed, I would not be a swift witness against you at the great day of account; but if you will refuse these gracious invitations, I must do it.”
In this spirit, not very prevalent even now, Whitefield began his ministry. On his return from Georgia, 1739, “the clergy had begun to perceive that either his doctrine or theirs, concerning the new birth and the way of a sinner’s justification before God, must fall. The bishops received him coldly. In two days, the use of five churches was denied him: Pamphlets were published against his sermon on regeneration, and sermons were preached against him, his doctrines, and his proceedings. But he was busy in attending prayer-meetings and preaching in the few churches that were still open, and awakenings and conversions multiplied. At Bristol he had the use of the churches at first, but in a short time all were closed against him. Already at London, seeing the crowds around the doors and windows, unable to hear, he had thought of preaching to them in the open air; but both he and his friends hesitated and prayed before taking so bold a step.
While at Bristol, he made the attempt. The colliers in the vicinity were numerous, rude, and ignorant. When provoked, they were the terror of the city; and at all times it was thought dangerous to go among them. White-field went one day to Hannam Mount, and preached to about a hundred of them. The news spread rapidly among the colliers, and his audience soon increased to twenty thousand. The gospel was indeed ‘good news’ to them, for they had never ‘heard preaching before. Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend to publicans, and who 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 sound and thorough conversion. At this time he made two excursions into Wales, where a revival of religion had commenced several years before, under the ministry of the Rev. Griffith Jones, and was now carried on by the ministry of Mr. Howell Harris, a man of strong mental powers, great Christian zeal, and considerable learning.
“Intent on the advancement of his orphan-house in Georgia, Whitefield soon went to London, passing on his way through Oxford. At both places he found opposition, and in London was shut out of the churches. He preached to thousands in Islington churchyard, and now resolved to give himself to the work in the open air. The spots on which Whitefield now began, in his own language, to take the field, and publicly to erect the standard of the Redeemer’s cross, are well known. Moorfields, then a place of general rendezvous and recreation from the crowded city, Kennington Common then about two, and Blackheath about five miles from London, were the favourite sites to which he loved to resort, and ‘ open his mouth boldly’ to listening thousands, in honour of his crucified and glorified Lord. Recording his first engagement of this kind in his diary of Sabbath evening, April 29, 1739, he writes, ‘ Begun to be yet more vile this day, for I preached at Moorfields to an exceeding great multitude; and at five in the evening went and preached at Kennington Common, where upwards of twenty thousand were supposed to be present. For several successive months these places were his chief scenes of action. At a moderate computation, the audience frequently consisted of twenty thousand. It is said that the singing could be heard two miles, and the voice of the preacher nearly one.”
“While one day preaching on Blackheath, there passed along the road. at some distance, an old man and ‘Mary’ his wife, with their ass and his loaded panniers, returning from London to their home in Kent. Attracted alike by the crowd and the preacher’s voice, the old man and his wife turned a little out of their way to hear ‘what the man was talking about.’ Whitefield spoke of somewhat which occurred eighteen hundred years ago, and the old man said, ‘Mary, come along, it is only something which happened a long while ago;’ but Mary’s attention had been arrested, and she wished to stay a minute or two longer. They were both soon in tears, and the inquiry was excited in their hearts, ‘What shall we do to be saved?’ On their way home, the old man recollected his neglected Bible, and asked, ‘Why, Mary, does not our old book at home say somewhat about these things?’ They went home, and examined the old book with new light. ‘Why, Mary,’ asked the old man, ‘is this, indeed our old book? Why, everything in it seems quite new.’ So true is it, that the teaching of the Spirit gives new discernment as to the truths of divine revelation.”
“A fact illustrating the children’s love to the evangelist may be here mentioned. In his open-air preaching, especially in and about London, he was usually attended by many of them, who sat round him, in and about the pulpit, and handed to him the notes of those who desired his counsels and prayers. These children were exposed to the missiles with which he was often assailed, but however terrified they might be, or even hurt, they seldom shrunk; ‘but,’ says he, ‘on the contrary, every time I was struck, they turned up their little weeping eyes, and seemed to wish they could receive the blows for me.’”
At his first preaching in Moorfields, Gillies says:
“The thing being strange and new, he found, on coming out of the coach, an incredible number of people assembled. Many told him that he would never come out of that place alive. He went in, however, between two friends, who by the pressure of the crowd were soon parted from him entirely, and obliged to leave him to the mercy of the rabble. But these, instead of hurting him, formed a lane for him, and carried him along to the middle of the fields, where a table had been placed. This, however, having been broken by the crowd, he mounted a wall, and preached to an exceeding great multitude in tones so melting, that his words drew tears and groans from the most abandoned of his hearers. Thirty thousand people sometimes gathered together to hear him.”
A cheaply constructed tabernacle was eventually run up for him in Moorfields, and of the close of one day’s preaching he records:
“We then retired to the Tabernacle, with my pockets full of notes from persons brought under concern, and read them amidst the praises and spiritual acclamations of thousands, who joined with the holy angels in rejoicing that so many sinners were snatched, in such an unexpected unlikely place and manner, out of the very jaws of the devil. Three hundred and fifty awakened souls were received in one day; and I believe-the number of notes exceeded a thousand.”
Scarcely had Whitefield completed the tabernacle, when he was earnestly solicited to hold public services at the west end of the city, and Long-Acre chapel, then under the charge of a dissenter, was offered for his use.
“An unruly rabble there endeavoured to drive the preacher from his post; but a running fire of brickbats, broken glass, bells, drums, and clappers, neither annoyed nor frightened the intrepid evangelist; nor did an interference on the part of the hierarchy, which followed soon after, prohibiting his preaching in an incorporated (dissenting) chapel. ‘1 hope you will not look on it as contumacy,’ said Whitefield to the bishop, ‘if I persist in prosecuting my design until I am more particularly apprised wherein I have erred. I trust the irregularity I am charged with will appear justifiable to every lover of English liberty, and, what is all to me, be approved at the awful and impartial tribunal of the great Bishop and Shepherd of souls.’ Writing to Lady Huntingdon, he says, ‘My greatest distress is so to act as to avoid rashness on the one hand and timidity on the other;’ and this shows, what indeed was proved in his whole life, an entire absence of that malignant element of fanaticism which courts opposition and revels in it.”
“Determined not to be beaten from his ground, yet hoping to escape some of its annoyances, Whitefield resolved to build a chapel ‘of his own hence arose Tottenham Court-road chapel, which went by the name of ‘Whitefield’s Soul-trap.’ ‘I pray,’ said he, ‘the Friend of sinners to make it a soul-trap indeed to many wandering creatures. My constant work is preaching fifteen times a week. Conviction and conversion go on here, for God hath met us in our new building.’ It was completed and dedicated in November, 1Th6, and within two years of its opening, not only did the congregation build a parsonage-house for their minister, but twelve almshouses for as many poor widows.”
“About this time Joseph Periam, a young man in London, who had read his sermon on ‘regeneration,’ became deeply impressed by it; he sold all he possessed, and prayed so loud and fasted so long, that his family supposed him deranged, and sent him to the Bedlam madhouse, where he was treated as ‘methodistically mad,’ and as ‘one of Whitefield’s gang.’ The keepers threw him down, and forced a key into his mouth, while they drenched him with medicine. He was then placed in a cold room without windows, and with a damp cellar under it. Periam, however, found some means of conveying a letter to WhitefIeld, requesting both advice and a visit. These were promptly given. The preacher soon discovered that Periam was not mad; and taking a Mr. Seward and some other friends with him, he went before the committee of the hospital to explain the case. Seward so astounded the, committee by quoting Scripture, that they pronounced him to be as mad as Periam. The doctors frankly told the deputation that, in their opinion, Whitefield and his followers were ‘really beside themselves.’ It was, however, agreed, that if Whitefield would take Periam out to Georgia, his release would be granted. Thus the conference ended, and the young man went out as a schoolmaster at the Orphan-house, where ho was exemplary and useful.”
The dignitaries of the Church (to return) now took the field aimed against “enthusiasm,” by which was intended the doctrines of regeneration, and justification by faith, without the works of the law or the Church either as a ground or a condition precedent; which Whitefield defended in a reply.
“The ideas of Whitefield and his opponents were now fairly drawn out and embattled against each other, and it was to be decided, whether a truly spiritual religion should be allowed to subsist in the Church of -England. On these vital points of doctrinal and practical religion, Whitefield found sympathy among the Dissenters. He had some pleasing interviews with Watts, Doddridge, and other leading Congregationalists; but, as he preferred to labour in the Church to which he belonged, and as they were afraid that his enthusiasm and irregularities would work mischief in the end, there was no public co-operation between them. Watts cautioned him against giving heed to ‘impressions,’ supposed, but not proved, to be from the Holy Spirit; warned him of the danger of delusion and imprudence, and gave him credit for sincerity and zeal, but doubted his ‘extraordinary call to some parts of his conduct. Doddridge called him a very honest man, but weak, and ‘a little intoxicated with popularity.’ [At a later day however, these excellent men obtained very different impressions, and became warm friends of the revivalist and the revival.]
Whitefield in these controversies and labours, was executing no plan of his own, but simply doing the duty, which the circumstances of each day demanded. He had come to England, to receive priest’s orders, and collect money for his orphan-house. An embargo, caused by the commencement of a war with Spain, unexpectedly detained him, and he was neither willing nor permitted to be idle. He preached, to a few hearers in a private rooms or to thirty thousand on Kennington Common: attended a little prayer-meeting, gave advice to an anxious sinner, heard good advice from Watts and Doddridge, or engaged in controversy with the Bishop of London, just as one occasion after another called him to do. And now, the embargo being raised, and the care of the colliers and some other affairs being transferred to Wesley, whom he had induced to commence field-preaching, this pastor of a little parish in Georgia embarked, August 14, 1739, for Philadelphia, on his return to the people of his charge.”
Nearly simultaneous with the conversion of the Wesleys, occurred that of David Brainerd—an event of recognised importance, particularly in its relation to the missionary movement which was to become such a leading and vital element of the religious activity of the period now inaugurated, and which already manifested itself with singular energy in the earliest impulses of the young Oxford apostles. The Indians were then the prominent objects of the missionary spirit, which, descending to a later generation has expanded, in less than a century, to the compass of the globe. The experience of David Brainerd is a beautiful parallel to that of President Edwards (inserted in another place), as will be seen from the following narrative, and might be still more noticeably illustrated if we had room for a more extended quotation:
“After a considerable time spent in similar exercises and distress, one morning, while I was walking in a solitary place, as usual, I at once saw that all my contrivances and projects to effect or procure deliverance and salvation for myself were utterly in vain; I was brought quite to a stand, as finding myself totally lost. I had thought many times before, that the difficulties in my way were very great; but now I saw, in another and very different light, that it was forever impossible for me to do anything toward helping or delivering myself.
I then thought of blaming myself, that I had not done more, and been more engaged while I had opportunity—for it seemed now as if the season for doing was for ever over and gone—but I instantly saw, that let me have done what I would, it would no more have tended to my helping myself, than what I had done; that I had made all the pleas I ever could have made to all eternity; and that all my pleas were vain. The tumult that had been before in my mind was now quieted, and I was somewhat eased of that distress which I felt while struggling against a sight of myself, and of the divine sovereignty. I had the greatest certainty that my state was forever miserable, for all that I could do, and wondered that I had never been sensible of it before.
“I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind from Friday morning till the Sabbath evening following (July 12, 1739), when I was walking again in the same solitary place where I was brought to see myself lost and helpless, as before mentioned. Here, in a mournful, melancholy state, I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in prayer or any other duty. My former concern, exercise, and religious affections were now gone. I thought that the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed, yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.
Having been thus endeavouring to pray though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless—for near half an hour; then, as I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light, somewhere in the third heavens, or anything of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor anything which had the least resemblance of it. I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before anything comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, of things divine. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied, that he should be God over all forever and ever.
My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfection’s of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree that I had no thought as I remember, at first, about my own salvation, and scarce reflected, that there was such a creature as myself.
“Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt him, and set him on the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at his honour and glory, as King of the universe. I continued in this state of inward joy, peace and astonishment, till near dark, without any sensible abatement, and. then began to think and, examine what I had seen, and felt sweetly composed in my mind all the evening following. I felt myself in a new world, and everything about me appeared with a different aspect from what it was wont to do.
“At this time the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should ever think of any other way of salvation; I was amazed that I had not dropped my own contrivances, and complied with this lovely, blessed, and excellent way before, if I could have been saved by my own duties, or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refused. .I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely by the righteousness of Christ.”
Three or four years later, we find Brainerd engaged in his heavenly mission of mercy to the poor heathen of the forest in New Jersey. On his removal to Crossweeksung, in New Jersey (1745), his labours were visited with an outpouring of grace so marvelously divine as justly to be included among the great manifestations of the time we are now dwelling on. His preaching appears, especially at this time, to have been much imbued with the tender and winning elements of the gospel. His text, on the 6th of August 1745, preaching to about forty Indians who could understand him, was, “Herein is love.”
“They seemed eager of hearing; but there appeared nothing very remarkable, except their attention, till near the close of my discourse; and then Divine truth was attended with a surprising influence, and produced a great concern among them. There were scarcely three in forty who could refrain from tears and bitter cries. They all as one seemed in an agony of soul to obtain an interest in Christ; and the more I discoursed of the love and compassion of God in sending His Son to suffer for the sins of men; and the more I invited them to come and partake of his love, the more their distress was aggravated, because they felt themselves unable to come. It was surprising to see how their hearts seemed to be pierced with the tender and melting invitations of the gospel, ‘when there was not a word of terror spoken to them.
“There were this day two persons who obtained relief and comfort; which, when I came to discourse with them particularly, appeared solid, rational, and scriptural. After I had inquired into the grounds of their comfort, and said many things, which I thought proper to them, I asked them what they wanted that God should do farther for them. They replied, ‘they wanted Christ should wipe their hearts quite clean,’ etc.
“Aug. 8. There were now six in all, who had got some relief from their spiritual distresses; and five whose experience appeared very clear and satisfactory. There was much visible concern among them while I was discoursing publicly; but afterward, when I spoke to one and another more particularly, whom I perceived under much concern, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly ‘like a mighty rushing wind,’ and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it.
I stood amazed at the influence which seized the audience almost universally; and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent, or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever is in its way. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and some little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. It was apparent that these children, some of them at least, were not merely frightened with seeing the general concern, but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it.
The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow. They were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors; and numbers could neither go nor stand. Their concern was so great, each one for himself, that none seemed to take any notice of those about them, but each prayed freely for himself. Those who had lately obtained relief; were filled with comfort at this season.
They appeared calm and composed, and seemed to rejoice in Christ Jesus. Some of them took their distressed friends by the hand, telling them of the goodness of Christ, and the comfort that is to be enjoyed in him; and thence invited them to come and give up their hearts to him. I could observe some of them, in the most honest and unaffected manner, without any design of being taken notice of, lifting up their eyes to heaven, as if crying for mercy, while they saw the distress of the poor souls around them.
There was one remarkable instance of awakening this day, which I cannot fail to notice here. A young Indian woman, who, I believe, never knew before that she had a soul, nor ever thought of any such thing, hearing that there was something strange among the Indians, came, it seems, to see what was the matter. On her way to the Indians she called at my lodgings, and when I told her that I designed presently to preach to the Indians, laughed, and. seemed to mock; but went, however, to them. I had not proceeded far in my public discourse before she felt effectually that she had a soul; and before I had concluded my discourse, was so convinced of her sin and misery, and so distressed with concern for her soul’s salvation, that she seemed like one pierced through with a dart, and cried out incessantly she could neither go nor stand, nor sit on her seat without being held up. After public service was over she lay flat on the ground, praying earnestly, and would take no notice of, nor give any answer to, any who spoke to her. I hearkened to what she said, and perceived the burden of her prayer to be, ‘Have mercy on me, and help me to give you my heart.’ Thus she continued praying incessantly, for many hours together.”
This extraordinary influence continued for many months of constant seriousness and tenderness, with repetitions at intervals, of the mighty operations of the Spirit above described, and frequent instances of blissful conversion, and wonderful reformation on the part of persons before given to the worst of crimes. Indeed the Divine presence seems never after to have left the people among whom he laboured, until his final sickness removed the youthful’ apostle from them, in his twenty-ninth year. In the course of eleven months, about forty of this small congregation were brought into the church of Christ, on as unequivocal evidence of regeneration, perhaps, as it is possible for human judgement to obtain. We quote only one example, indicating what seems to have been the usual type of experience among these converts:
“She now appeared in a heavenly frame of mind, composed and delighted with the divine will. When I came to discourse particularly with her, and to inquire of her how she obtained relief and deliverance from the spiritual distresses which she had lately suffered, she answered, in broken English, ‘Me try, me try save myself; last, my strength be all gone (meaning her ability to save herself); could not me stir bit further,’ Den last me forced let Jesus Christ alone send me hell, if he please.’ I said, ‘But you was not willing to go to hell, was you?’ She replied, ‘ Could not me help it. My heart, he would wicked for all. could not me make him good’(meaning, she saw it was right she should go to hell, because her heart was wicked, and would be so after all she could do to mend it). I asked her how she got out of this case.
She answered still in the same broken language, ‘By my, my heart’ be glad desperately.’ I asked her why her heart was glad. She replied, ‘Glad my heart, Jesus Christ do what he please with me. Did not me care where he put me; love him for all’ etc. She could not readily be convinced but that she was willing to go to hell if Christ was pleased to send her there; although the truth evidently was, that her will was so swallowed up with the divine will that she could not frame any hell in her imagination which would be dreadful or undesirable provided it was the will of God to send her to it.”
The rekindling of the missionary spirit in this great awakening was not observable only in the Oxford “Methodists,” and Brainerd. Results of similar character to those that attended his brief career were enjoyed at other Mission stations at the same period. Among the Indians on Long Island, thirty-five adults and forty-four children were baptised by Mr. Horton, in two years from his arrival in 1741. Soon after, there were numerous conversions among the Indians near Stonington; and a visit from these Christian Indians, was the means of awaking those in Westerly, Rhode Island, where over sixty were admitted to the Church, about 1744, and heathenism appears to have been completely extinguished. Brainerd’s career was scarcely begun ere it was ended, but he being dead yet speaketh—one of the first and master spirits of modern Missions. Simultaneously with these efforts and Divine manifestations among the North American heathen, in October 1744, leading revivalists in Scotland, seconded by Edwards and others in America, were prompted first to suggest the Monthly Concert of prayer for the conversion of the world; now attached, a blessed institution, to the churches of Christ almost universally.
Whitefield arrived in Philadelphia, in the fall of 1739. Of his incidental labours there, Dr. Franklin says:
“The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons in Philadelphia were enormous. It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless and indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world was growing religious; so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families in every street.
“I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand people. I refused to contribute to his orphan-house in Georgia; thinking it injudiciously located. Soon after, I happened to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded, I began to soften, and determined to give the copper. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed of that, and determined me to give the silver; and he finished so admirably, that I emptied my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.
At this sermon there, was also one of our club, who, being of my sentiments respecting the building at Georgia, and suspecting a collection might be intended, had, by precaution, emptied his pockets before he came from home. Towards the conclusion of the discourse, however, he felt a strong inclination to give, and applied to a neighbour, who stood near him, to lend him some money for the purpose. The request was made to, perhaps, the only man in the company who had the firmness not to be affected by the preacher. His answer was, ‘At any other time, friend Hodgkinson, I would lend to thee freely; but not now, for thee seems to be out of thy right senses,’”
“Look where I would,” say an eye-witness, “most were drowned in tears.” Among other very striking conversions in Philadelphia, at this period, was that of a young lady, who had for several years made a public profession of Christianity, but now became fully convinced that “she was totally unacquainted with vital piety.” It is stated that she once walked twenty miles to hear Whitefield preach. She became a woman of eminent godliness.
“An aged man who was living in 1806, and who well remembered the scenes he witnessed, bore testimony that after this visit of the great evangelist, public worship was regularly celebrated in Philadelphia twice a day for a whole year; and that on the Lord’s day it was celebrated three, and frequently four times in each church. He said there were not less than twenty-six societies regularly held for prayer and Christian conference.
“Such was the influence of Whitefield, not only in Philadelphia, but throughout the colony of Pennsylvania, that in the city attention to commerce was suspended, and in the country the cultivation of the land for the time being was abandoned, that people might hear him proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus.”
Years afterwards, an excellent minister, Rev. Mr. Rodgers,
“Asked him whether he recollected the occurrence of the little boy who was so affected with his preaching as to let his lantern fall. Mr. Whitefield replied, ‘O yes, I remember it well; and have often thought I would give almost any thing in my power, to know who that little boy was, and what had become of him.’ Mr. Rodgers replied with a smile, ‘I am that little boy.’ Mr. Whitefield, with tears of joy, started from his seat, took him in his arms, and with strong emotion remarked, that he was the fourteenth person then in the ministry whom he had discovered in the course of that visit to America, in whose conversion he had, under God, been instrumental.”
“From Philadelphia, Whitefield was invited to Yew York. Upon his arrival, the commissary of the bishop, he says, ‘was full of anger and resentment, and denied me the use of his pulpit before I asked for it. He said they did not want my assistance. I replied, that if they preached the gospel, I wished them good luck: I will preach in the fields; for all places are alike to me.’ The undaunted evangelist therefore preached in the fields; and on the evening of the same day, to a very thronged and attentive audience, in the Rev. Mr. Pemberton’s meeting-house, in. Wall street; and continued to do so twice or three times,’ a day, with apparent success.”
“As to the localities honoured by Whitefield’s preaching in and about the city of Yew York we find many records of his discoursing in the open fields of the surrounding country; the old City Exchange, which stood at the foot of Broad street, near Water street, and which was built on large arches, was a favourite spot for itinerant preachers, and for Whitefield among the rest. During his various visits to New York, from 1745 to 1750, he generally preached in the Presbyterian Church in Wall Street, which was then the only church of that denomination in the city, and of which the Rev. Dr. Pemberton, from Boston, was the minister. Afterwards, a few years before his death, he was accustomed to preach in the Brick church in Beekman street; which was then familiarly called the ‘Srick Meeting,’ and in common parlance, said to be ‘in the fields,’ so little was the city extended at that period. So prosperous was his ministry in New York, that it was found necessary immediately to enlarge the Presbyterian church in Wall-street, by the erection of galleries; and a year or two afterwards it was again enlarged about one-third, in order to accommodate the stated worshippers.”
In this city occurred the well-known illustration of his dramatic power, when, preaching to a large number of sailors, he introduced a description of a storm and shipwreck, carrying away their imaginations so irresistibly that in the climax of the catastrophe they sprang to their feet, exclaiming, “Take to the long boat!”
From New York Whitefield returned southwards to his destination in Georgia, preaching through New Jersey to great multitudes, among whom, as Edwards has already noted for us, a work of grace had recently been enjoyed under the labours of “young Mr. Frelinghuysen.” Passing through Philadelphia, he found the churches closed against him, and preached in the fields.
“Societies for worship were commenced in different parts of the town; not a few began seriously to inquire after the way of salvation; many Negroes came to the evangelist with the inquiry, ‘Have I a soul?’ and a church was formed, of which the distinguished Gilbert Tennent was the pastor. No less than one hundred and forty, who had undergone a previous strict examination as to their personal piety, were received as constituent members of this church, and large additions were from time to time made to their number.
“Mr. Jones, the Baptist minister of the city, told Whitefield of the change produced by his former preaching on the minds of two ministers; one of whom stated to his congregation that he had hitherto been deceiving both himself and them, and added, that he could not preach to them at present, but requested them to unite in prayer with him; and the other resigned his charge, to itinerate among the unenlightened villages of New Jersey and elsewhere. Another fact was, that an Indian trader became so impressed with the preaching of Whitefield, that he had given up his business, and was gone to teach the Indians with whom he used to trade.
“There had been a drinking club, which had attached to it a negro boy remarkable or his power of mimicry. This boy was directed by the gentlemen who composed the club to exercise his powers on Mr. Whitefield: he did so, but very reluctantly; at length 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 had such an effect as to break up the club, which met no more.”
He went on preaching to the South, encountered a determined persecution from ecclesiastical authorities in Charleston, laid the first brick in his orphan-house in Georgia, had a melting season of labour with the hearts of his young people there, and soon (April, 1740) returned northward, preaching all the way to immense numbers, in the same manner as before.
In September he arrived at Newport, on his first visit to New England. He was welcomed with great expectation -in all the principal cities and towns, and remained about six weeks, preaching with powerful effect, to preaching as well as its immediate and visible influence upon his audiences, was by no means so remarkable as in England and in other parts of this country.
Again, he went on preaching to the South, through New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia; meeting and labouring with the Tennents and the celebrated evangelist, Davenport, and setting the country all in a flame of religious excitement. In January 1741, he returned to England, where he found all men turned against him in consequence of sectarian controversies in which he had mingled to oppose, by letter, the narrower views of popular favourites who had held the field in his absence. He went on preaching the gospel, nevertheless, with all his peculiar disinterestedness, breadth and singleness of purpose, and with all his unmatched power; and in a few days the tide was turned, and his usefulness became more eminent than ever. In the following summer, for the first time, he went through Scotland, in which he made, in the whole, no less than fourteen preaching tours, from 1741 to 1768.
“Perhaps no man was ever more free from sectarianism than George Whitefield. It is true, that he was ordained a clergyman of the Church of England, and never manifested any degree of reluctance to officiate within its walls; but it is equally true, that the vast majority of his sermons were delivered in connection with other bodies of Christians.
When he was once preaching from the balcony of the courthouse, Market street, Philadelphia, he delivered an impressive apostrophe: ‘Father Abraham, who have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians?’ ‘No.’ ‘Any Presbyterians?’ ‘No.’ ‘Any Baptists?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you any Methodists, Seceders, or Independents there?’ ‘No, no!’ ‘Why who have you there?’ ‘We don’t know those names here. All who are here are Christians, believers in Christ—men who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of his testimony.’ ‘Oh, is that the case? Then God help me, God help us all, to forget party names, and to become Christians, in deed and in truth.’
The breadth of his mind was exhibited, as already remarked, in his constant refusal to permit any memorial to be left of him or of any peculiar views and plans of his own, in the shape of a sect or a party. There is inexpressible significance in such a stand on the part of such a man, in such a time. The men who founded schools and sects in that age of reformation, were great—some of them, certainly—but he who could see and feel with the foremost of them, and yet could refuse to found anything, and build solely on “the foundation that is laid,” was greater. The secret of this lay in the wholeness of his devotion to Christ, and to that unity of His people which was the burden of the wondrous intercession left on record for us in the 17th chapter of John. But we have another instance of broad wisdom and rare purity of heart, in declining a species of power, which is almost universally thought legitimate and desirable to the Christian labourer. During his stay in Scotland, in the year 1759, a young lady, Miss Hunter, who possessed a considerable fortune, made a full offer to him of her estate in money and lands. He promptly refused the offer; and upon his declining it for himself, she offered it to him for the benefit of his orphan- house. This also he absolutely refused.
Over three years passed before his next visit to America, during which his stated employment and object, what may be called the thread of his career, was still, as at all other times, the support of his charitable enterprise in Georgia. Upon this thread, however, was strung an immeasurable amount of evangelistic labour, always incidental as to its occasions, and without any general plan, yet so great and absorbing as to conceal this original purpose almost wholly from view. Many remarkable incidents occurred before his third voyage to his own ‘parish’ in Georgia, from which the following are selected:
During a visit to Bristol, Whitefield’s ministry was owned of God in the conversion of Thomas Olivers, a young profligate Welshman. It is said; he had so studied profanity and cursing, that he would exemplify the richness of the Welsh language by compounding twenty or thirty words into one long and horrid blasphemy. He had often sung profane songs about Whitefield, and was now induced by curiosity to go to hear him. Being too late on the first occasion, he went on the following evening nearly three hours before the time. The text was, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?“— Zech. iii. 2. His heart became broken with the sense of his sins, and he was soon enabled to trust in the mercy of Christ. He became a zealous ‘and successful minister of Christ among the followers of Mr. Wesley, and was the author of the well-known hymn,
“The God Of Abram Praise,” etc.
On one occasion, while preaching under the shade of a venerable tree, in a lovely meadow, a poor unhappy man, thinking to turn him into ridicule, placed himself on one of ‘the overhanging boughs, immediately above the preacher’s head, and with monkey-like dexterity mimicking his gestures, endeavoured to raise a laugh in the audience. Guided by the looks of some of his hearers, Whitefield caught a glance of him, but, without seeming to have noticed him, continued his discourse. With the skill of a wise orator, he reserved the incident for the proper place and time. While forcibly speaking on the power and sovereignty of divine grace, with increasing earnestness he spoke of the unlikely objects it had often chosen, and the unlooked foil triumphs it had achieved. As he rose to the climax of his inspiring theme, and when in the full sweep of his eloquence, he suddenly paused, and turning round, and pointing slowly to the poor creature above him, he exclaimed, in a tone of deep and thrilling pathos, “Even he may yet be the subject of that free and resistless grace.” It was a shaft from the Almighty. Winged by the divine Spirit, it struck the scoffer to the heart, and realised in his conversion the glorious truth it contained.
When he was in Edinburgh a regiment of soldiers were stationed in the city, in which was a sergeant whose name was Forbes, a very abandoned man, who, everywhere he could do so, run in debt for liquor, with which he was almost at all times drunk. His wife washed for the regiment, and thus obtained a little money. She was a pious woman, but all her attempts to reclaim her husband were unsuccessful. During one of Mr. Whitefield’s visits to the city, she offered her husband a sum of money, if he would for once go and hear the eloquent preacher. This was a strong inducement, and he engaged to go. The sermon was in a field, as no building could have contained the audience. The sergeant was rather early, and placed himself in the middle of the field, that he might file off when Mr. Whitefield ascended the pulpit; as he only wished to be able to say that he had seen him. The crowd, however, increased; and when the preacher appeared, they pressed forward, and the sergeant found it impossible to get away. The prayer produced some impression on his mind, but the sermon convinced him of his sinfulness and danger. He became a changed man, and showed the reality of his conversion by living for many years in a very penurious manner, till he had satisfied the claims of every one of his creditors.
‘While he was at Plymouth, four well-dressed men came to the house of one of his particular friends, in a kind manner inquiring after him, and desiring to know where he lodged. Soon after, Mr. Whitefield received a letter informing him that the writer was a nephew of Mr. S —, an attorney in New York; that he had the pleasure of supping with Mr. Whitefield at his uncle’s house, and requested his company to sup with him and a few friends at a tavern. Mr. Whitefield replied to him that he was not accustomed to sup abroad at such houses, but he should be glad of the gentleman’s company to eat a morsel with, him at his own lodging. The gentleman accordingly came and supped, but was observed frequently to look around him, and to be very absent. At length he took his leave, and returned to his companions in the tavern, and on being asked by them what he had done, he answered, that he had been treated with so much civility and kindness that he had not the heart to touch him. One of the company, a lieutenant of a man-of-war, laid a wager of ten guineas that he would do his business for him. His companions, however, had the precaution to take away his sword.
“It was now about midnight, and Mr. Whitefield having that day preached to a large congregation, and visited the French prisoners, had retired to rest, when he was awoke and told that a well-dressed gentleman earnestly wished to speak with him. Supposing that it was ‘some person under conviction of sin many such having previously called upon him, he desired him to be brought to his room. The lieutenant came, sat down by his bedside, congratulated him upon the success of his ministry, and expressed considerable regret that he had been prevented from hearing him. Soon after, however, he began to utter the most abusive language, and in a cruel and cowardly manner beat him in his bed. The landlady and her daughter, hearing the noise, rushed into the room and laid hold of the assailant; but disengaging himself from them, he renewed his attack on the unoffending preacher, who, supposing that he was about to be shot or stabbed, underwent all the feelings of a sudden and violent death. Soon after, a second person came into the house, and called from the bottom of the stairs, ‘Take courage, I am ready to help you.’ But by the repeated cries of murder the neighborhood had become so alarmed, that the villains were glad to make their escape. ‘The next morning,’ says Mr. Whitefield, ‘I was to expound at a private house, and then to set out for Biddeford. Some urged me to stay and prosecute, but being better employed, I went on my intended journey, was greatly blessed in preaching the everlasting gospel; and, upon my return, was well paid for what I had suffered, curiosity having, led perhaps two thousand more than ordinary to see and hear a man that had like to have been murdered in his bed. And I trust, in the five weeks that I waited for the convoy, hundreds were awakened and turned unto the Lord.’
“As Whitefield was one day preaching in Plymouth, a Mr. Henry Tanner, who was at work as a ship-builder at, a distance, heard his voice, and resolved, with five or six of his companions, to go and drive him from the place where he stood; and for this purpose they filled their pockets with stones. When, however, Mr. Tanner drew near, and heard Mr. Whitefield earnestly inviting sinners to Christ, he was filled with astonishment, his resolution failed him, and he went home with his mind deeply impressed. On the following evening, he again attended, and heard Mr. Whitefield on the sin of those who crucified the Redeemer. After he had forcibly illustrated their guilt, he appeared to look intently on Mr. Tanner, as he exclaimed, with great energy, ‘Thou art the man!, These words powerfully impressed Mr. Tanner; he felt his transgressions of the divine law to be awfully great, and in the agony of his soul he cried, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ The preacher then proceeded to proclaim the free and abundant grace of the Lord Jesus, which he commanded to be preached among the very people who had murdered him; a gleam of hope entered the heart of the penitent, and he surrendered himself to Christ. Mr. Tanner afterwards entered the ministry, and laboured with great success, for many years, at Exeter.”
We now return to New England, and the events which ensued’ upon the first visit of Whitefield, and the preaching of Gilbert Tennent, who followed up his labours there with a power which was perhaps not much inferior, relatively to the character of the New England mind. Whitefield had spent a season of spiritual delight with Edwards and his church, at Northampton, in the fall of 1740.
The revival had returned to this people already, in the spring, and continued in this and the following year. The preaching of the gospel was attended with the most wonderful power, in every part of New England, and revivals gave new life and multiplied numbers to the churches, in a larger number of towns than our space enables us to enumerate, throughout New England, and in the Middle States. This is the period, which, by eminence, is called “the Great Awakening.” As one example of the power of the gospel in those days, the celebrated sermon preached by Edwards at Enfield, July 8, 1741, must be mentioned:
“While the people of the neighbouring towns,” says Trumbull, “were in great distress about their souls, the inhabitants of Enfield were very secure, loose, and vain. A lecture had been appointed there and the neighbouring people were so affected at the thoughtlessness of the inhabitants, and had so much fear that God would, in his righteous judgment, pass them by, that many of them were prostrate before him a considerable part of the previous evening, supplicating the mercy of heaven in their behalf. And when the time appointed for the lecture came, a number of the surrounding ministers were present, as well as some from a distance—a proof of the prayerful interest felt on behalf of the town.” Mr. Edwards chose for his text, the words, ‘their feet shall slide in due time. ’Deut. xxxii. 35. ‘When they went into the meeting-house, the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain; the people scarcely conducted themselves with common decency.’ But as the sermon proceeded, the audience became so overwhelmed with distress and weeping, that the preacher was ‘obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard.’ The excitement soon became intense; and it is said that a minister who sat in the pulpit with Mr. Edwards, in the agitation of his feelings, caught the preacher by the skirt of his dress, and said, ‘Mr. Edwards, Mr. Edwards, is not God a God of mercy?’ Many of the hearers were seen unconsciously holding themselves up against the pillars, and the sides of the pews, as though they already felt themselves sliding into the pit. This fact has often been mentioned as a proof of the strong and scriptural character of President Edwards’ peculiar eloquence—the eloquence of truth as attended by influence from heaven; for his sermons were read without gestures.”
Probably a period of at least a quarter of a century ought to be regarded as covered by the “Great Awakening.” It cannot be doubted that at least 50,000 souls were added to the churches of New England out of a population ’of about 250,000, as it is estimated; which makes the remarkable proportion of twenty per cent of all the inhabitants—a fact sufficient to revolutionise, as indeed it did, the religious and moral character, and to determine the destinies, of the country. But this was not all. Perhaps as many converts were made within the churches as without them; and this, as every experienced Christian knows, is a change of double moment to the church, at once adding strength and removing the most depressing of all burdens. Not less than 150 new congregational churches were established in twenty years. The increase of Baptist churches in the last half of that century was still more wonderful, rising from nine to upwards of four hundred in number, with a total of thirty thousand members. The increase of the Presbyterians and other denominations in the Middle States, appears to be less distinctly traced, but it is said that the ministers of the former denomination were more than doubled in number, within “a few years,” while the churches had multiplied in a still larger proportion.
But all these numerical changes express very little of the profound revolution which took place in the religious life of the church ‘and the country. We cannot enter into a thorough comparison of the state of religion before and after the revival, nor into a view of the important doctrinal and practical conflicts, which it produced, and ultimately settled in a manner now universally felt to have been vital to the soundness and prosperity of religion. An illustration may set this subject in a strong light. The colossal Edwards, almost in the zenith of his reputation and influence, was dismissed from the pastoral office, by the church in Northampton of which he was little less than the spiritual father, with the advice of a council, as late as’ 1750,’ for having taken that side of the “regeneration” controversy which held that credible evidence may be communicated from man to man, of an inward experience of regeneration, and ought to be exacted as the condition of communion with the church. This shows what a gulf of latitudinarianism was closed by the new Reformation when Edwards and the Revivalists triumphed, and the great body of churches of every name, expressly or tacitly adopted the now prevailing test. The consequences escaped by this timely, change, may be inferred from the fate of the churches which persisted in “the good old way,” and became Unitarian or extinct. The Presbyterian’ church was rent by substantially the same controversy which in their case hinged more particularly on conversion as a necessary qualification for ministers of the Gospel, and on the liberty claimed by the Revivalists, of preaching in the parishes of unconverted ministers. “A large majority in the Presbyterian church, and many, if not most, in New England, held that the ministrations of unconverted men, if neither heretical in doctrine nor scandalous for immorality, were valid and their labours useful.” In 1741, Tennent and his friends were in a minority in the Synod, and were excluded. In 1762, their majority in the Synod was about forty-nine to fourteen.
“This doctrine of the ‘new birth,’ as an ascertainable change, was not generally prevalent in any communion when the revival commenced; it was urged as of fundamental importance, by the leading promoters of the revival; it took strong hold of those whom the revival affected; it naturally led to such questions as the revival brought up and caused to be discussed; its perversions naturally grew into, or associated with, such errors as the revival promoted; it was adapted to provoke such opposition, and in such quarters, as the revival provoked; and its caricatures would furnish such pictures of the revival, as opposers drew.”
With these mere examples and illustrations of the Reformation under Whitefield and Edwards, the Tennents, the Wesleys, and their illustrious host of co-labourers, we must relinquish our hasty sketchings Whitefield, it is well known, swept on in his impetuous course with unchecked ardour and energy, over sea and land, for thirty-four years, to the last day of his life, which was the 30th of September, 1770.’ His last sermon was at Exeter, Mass. An eyewitness says: “ It was usual for Whitefield to be attended by Mr. Smith, who preached when he was unable on account of sudden attacks of asthma. At the time referred to, after Mr. Smith had delivered a short discourse, Mr. Whitefield seemed desirous of speaking; but from the weak state in which he then was, it was thought almost impossible. He rose from the seat in the pulpit, and stood erect, and his appearance alone was a powerful sermon. The thinness of his visage, the paleness of his countenance, the evident struggling of the heavenly spark in a decayed body for utterance, were all deeply interesting; the spirit was willing, but the flesh was dying. In this situation he remained several minutes, unable to speak; he then said, ‘I will wait for the gracious assistance of God, for he will, I am certain, assist me once more to speak in his name.’ He then delivered perhaps one of his best sermons, for the light generally burns most splendidly when about to expire. Among these last words were the following: ‘I go, I go to rest prepared; my sun has’ arisen, and by aid from heaven, given light to many; ‘tis now about to set for—no, it cannot be! ‘tis to rise to the zenith of immortal glory; I have outlived many on earth, but they cannot outlive me in heaven. Many shall live when this body is no more, but then—oh, thought divine! — I shall be in a world where time, age, pain, and sorrow are unknown. My body fails, my spirit expands; how willingly would I live forever to preach Christ I but I die to be with him. How brief, comparatively brief, has been my life, compared with the vast labours I see before me yet to be accomplished; but if I leave now, while so few care about heavenly things, the God of peace will surely visit you.’ These and many other things he said, which, though simple, were rendered important by circumstances; for death had let fly his arrow, and the shaft was deeply enfixed when utterance was given to them; his countenance, his tremulous voice, his debilitated frame, all gave convincing evidence that the eye which saw him should shortly see him no more for ever.”
We cannot resist quoting a passage from his last sermon in England, which, though very inadequately reported, is too full of pith and force to leave any doubt of the sterling solidity of his genius. His text was:
“‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’
“These words, it will be recollected, were uttered by Christ at the feast of the dedication. This festival was of bare human invention, and yet I do ‘not find that our Lord preached against it. And I believe that when we see things, as we ought, we shall not entertain our auditories about rites and ceremonies, but about the grand thing. It is the glory of Methodists, that while they have been preaching forty years, there has not been, that I know of, one single pamphlet published by them about the non-essentials of religion.
“The Lord divides the world into sheep and goats. 0 sinners, you are come to hear a poor creature take his last farewell; but I want you to forget the creature and his preaching. I want to lead you further than the Tabernacle—even to Mount Calvary, to see with what expense of blood Jesus Christ purchased ‘his own.’ Now before I go any further, will you be so good, before the world gets into your hearts, to inquire whether you belong to Christ or not. Surely the world did not get into your hearts before you rose from your beds. Many of you were up sooner than usual. [The sermon was preached at seven o’clock in the morning.] I hope the world does not get into your hearts before nine. Man, woman, sinner, put thy hand upon thy heart, and say, Didst thou ever hear Christ’s voice so as to follow him?
We have been permitted but to exemplify and illustrate a vast subject in part, within the restrictions of a few hours’ leisure and a few pages of room; and much that is omitted may be equally worthy of notice with much that has been selected. One or two of these unused elements in the religious history of the eighteenth century, are of too eminent importance to be ignored with propriety, even in that which does not pretend to be properly so much as a historical sketch, The influence, vastly wider than their direct agency, of that remarkable missionary society, the United Brethren, or Moravian Church, must be taken into account by any one who would frame a proper conception of the religious movement of that day. But the great constructive and organising mind, appointed doubtless by the Head of the church, to gather and embody the fruits of the new popular evangelism, can by no means be forgotten. As Evangelists, John and Charles Wesley, with their own peculiar associates, performed a very eminent part in the work of awakening and conversion; but in nourishing and guiding the multitude of humbler minds which this out-door evangelism gathered to Christ, and organising them into a new spiritual estate, so to speak, of His realm, destined to an unparalleled growth, activity, and success—in this important office, John Wesley is rather alone than eminent. Without exalting systems unduly in comparison with the pure and simple vitality for want of which they exist in the world, and which seems only to be exhibited prophetically, “a sign and a wonder” in a Paul or a Whitefield; we must recognize their great importance in their place, and relatively to the necessities of that stage of progress which evolved them, and as employed in the hand of Him who hath done all things well. Among them the system of Methodism must be admitted, by every observer of ordinary information, to have been one of the most important products of this latter day, and a striking manifestation of God’s wisdom and power in Providence. It has given an embodiment, a consciousness, and an impulse, as well as a luxuriant development, to the most energetic order, perhaps, of the Christian mind; an order before known to itself and the church only in a weak and dependent capacity. It is the greatest, aptest, single monument of the popular religious movement of the last century—the crystallisation of that mighty fusion of the masses, which everywhere attended the preaching of Whitefield and his friends. Evangelism swept down the indiscriminate harvest with its scythe: Methodism came after, binding it in bundles for the garner.
From this great epoch to the present day, the varying progress of the cause of Christ has been, on the whole, visibly onward. Less than one hundred years have passed; and the religious change in England and America is so great as to render the then state of things, both within and around the church, almost inconceivable to the modern mind, as so near to us in time. The rise of Missions, Sabbath-schools, Christian liberty and union, missions to outcasts, philanthropic movements and moral reforms, and above all, of the standard of life and activity in the churches, which we now witness as the fruit of that spring-time, strikes us with astonishment when we consider the brief period, not more than many an individual’s pilgrimage on earth, in which all this has come to pass. In the latter half of this interval, revivals have come to be regarded in the light of an indispensable institution, and their frequent recurrence in every church is expected as the ordinary blessing of God upon ordinary fidelity and prayerfulness. Looking forward by the light of experience, and comparing our present starting-point with that from which we set out a century ago, we are admonished to pitch our conceptions and anticipations higher, and direct our enterprises and prayers toward developments more marvellous yet than hope can measure.