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period, in the speeches which he delivered at the annual visitations. The applause awarded to him on these occasions proably contributed to his fondness for theatrical amusements. Hence some have affected to believe, or, at least, insinuated, that he derived his oratory from the stage. This imputation is utterly untrue. It would be more proper to say, that his talents for elocution, which enabled him afterwards to become so great a performer in the pulpit, were at this time in some danger of receiving a theatrical direction. The boys at the grammar school were fond of acting plays: the master,“ seeing how their vein ran," encouraged it, and composed a dramatic piece himself, which they represented before the corporation, and in which Whitefield acted a woman's part, and appeared in girl's clothes. The remembrance of this, he says, had often covered him with confusion of face, and he hoped it would do so even to the end of his life! Oratory, particularly that department of it which consists in graceful and energetic delivery, was so native to him, that he might more justly be said to communicate it to the stage than the stage to him. No sensible person who was acquainted with him, could fail to see, that his eloquence was the natural, spontaneous action of that peculiar assemblage of powers with which God had endowed him.
Nevertheless, he seems to have been unconscious of his endowment, or without the means of developing it, and entering into a profession requiring it. Before he was fifteen, he persuaded his mother to take him from school, saying, that she could not place him at the university, and more learning would spoil him for a tradesman. Her own circumstances, indeed, were by this time so much on the decline, that his menial services were required : he began occasionally to assist her in the public house, till at length he “put on his blue apron, washed mops, cleaned rooms, and became a professed and common drawer." In the little leisure which such employments allowed, he composed two or three sermons; and the romances, which had been his heart's delight, gave place awhile to Thomas à Kempis. One of these sermons was dedicated to his eldest brother.
When he had been about a year in this servile occupation, the inn was made over to a married brother, and George, being accustomed to the house, continued there as an assistant. His mother, though her means were scanty, permitted him to have a bed upon the ground in her house, and live with her, till Providence should point out a place for him. The way was soon indicated. A servitor of Pembroke College called upon his mother, and in the course of the conversation told
her, that after all his college expenses were discharged for that quarter, he had received a penny. She immediately cried out, this will do for my son; and turning to him said, Will you go to Oxford, George? Happening to have the same friends as this young man, she waited on them without delay : they promised their interest to obtain a servitor's place in the same college, and in reliance upon this, George returned to the gammar school. Here he applied closely to his books, and shaking off, by the strong effort of a religious mind, all evil and idle courses, produced, by the influence of his talents and example, some reformation among his school-fellows. The impressions of religion now began to deepen upon him: and at the
of seventeen he received sacrament of the Lord's supper. He now became more and more watchful, both over his heart and conversation. He attended public service constantly, received the sacrament monthly, fasted often, and prayed frequently more than twice a day in private. Thus, at the time of completing his preparation for Oxford, we find him mainly absorbed in the great business of religion.
From the time of his admission to the University of Oxford, to his
embarking for Georgia, 1737. At the age of eighteen Mr. Whitefield was removed to Oxford; the recommendation of his friends was successful; another friend borrowed for him ten pounds to defray the expense of entering; and with a good fortune beyond his hopes, he was admitted servitor immediately. He felt the advantage of having been trained up in a public house; his skill and diligence in his occupation led many to seek his attendance; and thus, aided by the income of his services, and some few presents made him by a kind-hearted tutor, he was enabled to live without incurring debts to the amount of more than twenty-four pounds during three years.
At first he was harrassed and tempted by the society into which he was thrown; he had several chamber fellows, who would fain have made him join their riotous mode of life. He however, showed his energy of resolution by sitting alone in his study till he was sometimes benumbed with cold, in order to escape their persecutions; and when they discovered his singularity of character, and his strength and fortitude in carrying it out, they abandoned him to his own course, and suffered him to pursue
it in peace.
It may well be conjectured that one thus mal-treated by the wicked, on account of the rigorous purity and strictness of his life, would have sympathy with a small band despised for their austere principles and scrupulous observances. Such a company Oxford then contained. Before Whitefield went there, he had heard of some young men who "lived by rule and method,” and were therefore called Methodists. They were now much talked of, and generally despised. Drawn toward them by kindred feelings, he defended them strenuously whenever he heard them reviled, and when he saw them go through the ridiculing crowd to receive the sacrament at St. Mary's was strongly inclined to follow their example. For more than a year he yearned to be acquainted with them: and a feeling of inferiority alone checked his advances. The object of his desires was finally thus accomplished. A pauper had attempted suicide, and Whitefield sent a poor woman to inform Charles Wesley that he might visit her, and administer spiritual medicine: the messenger was charged not to tell who sent her: contrary to this injunction, she told his name, and Charles Wesley, who had seen him frequently walking by himself, and heard something of his character, invited him to breakfast the next morning. An introduction to this little brotherhood soon followed, and he also, like them," began to live by rule, and pick up the very fragments of his time, that not a moment might be lost."
They were now about fifteen in number. When they began to meet they read divinity on Sunday evenings only, and pursued their classical studies on other nights; but religion soon became the sole business of their meetings; they now regularly visited the prisoners and the sick, communicated once a week, and fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, the stationary days of the Ancient Church, which was thus set apart, because on those days our Saviour had been betrayed and crucified. They also drew up a scheme of self-examination, to assist themselves by means of prayer and self-subjugation, in attaining the love and simplicity of God.
As Whitefield was one of the master-spirits who communicated to Methodism its first impulse and direction, a brief survey of the religious condition of that period, and the production of this sect from it, is highly pertinent to an account of his life. At that time, serious and practical christianity in England was in a very low condition; scriptural, experimental religion (which in the last century had been the subject of the sermons and writings of the clergy) had become quite unfashionable ; and the only thing insisted on was, a defense of the out-works of christianity against the objections of infidels. What was the
consequence? The writings of infidels multiplied every day, and infidelity made a rapid progress among persons of every rank; not because they were reasoned into it by the force of argument, but because they were kept strangers to Christ and the power of the gospel. We have a most affecting description of this, by Bishop Butler, whom none will suspect of exaggerating the fact: “It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted, by many persons, that christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is, now at length, discovered to be fictitious; and accordingly they treat it as if in the present age this were an agreed point among all people of discernment; and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule; as it were by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”
While pure and undefiled religion was thus well nigh extinct in England, and fast becoming so in Scotland, it pleased God to keep alive, in the persons of this despised band, that salt of the earth, which was to save it from moral putrefaction. Its beginnings were so feeble as to be scarcely observable; but, like the mustard seed, it shot up into a mighty tree, whose branches now clasp, in greater or less degrees, all christendom. John and Charles Wesley, had, in good earnest, been religiously educated, by parents who had been quickened by the Spirit of God, and manifested the fruits thereof in sober and godly lives.
In the course of their education, God in mercy delivered them from conformity to the habits and feelings of an age of abounding impiety, by his super-abounding grace. John was the first to feel its renewing and quickening power, and to transfuse its spirit into the details of life and action. He sought to press upon his brother the importance of austerer habits, and a more active devotion, but found him too much imbued with the current notion of a gradual reformation of character to think of becoming a saint all at once. While, however, John was absent at Wroote, the process which he had been vainly endeavoring to accelerate in his brother, was silently going on. His disposition, his early education, the example of his parents, and of both his brethren, all concurred toward a change, which he piously referred to his mother's prayers. Finding two or three fellow-students, whose inclinations and principles resembled his own, they associated together for the purpose of religious improvement, lived by rule and received the sacraments weekly. Such conduct would at any time have excited attention in an English University; it was peculiarly noticeable during the dreadful laxity of opinions and morals, which then obtained. The awful prevalence of infidelity in the country, has been already alluded to. It found its way also to the University,
and was becoming so contagious, that the vice-chancellor had, in a programma, exhorted the tutors to discharge their duty by double diligence, and had forbidden the undergraduates to read such books as might go to sap the foundations of their faith.
The greatest prudence could not have shielded men from ridicule, who at such an age, and in such a sphere, professed to make religion the great concern of their lives. It is too true, that the men of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light: and that inflexible fortitude, which was reckless enough of consequences to itself to brave the maledictions of an age spell-bound in wickedness, could scarcely be expected to be united with that wakeful prudence, which is ever on the alert to ward off petty misconstructions of character and actions. Accordingly they were called in derison the Sacramentarians, Bible-bigots, Bible-moths, the Holy or the Godly Club. One person, with less irreverence and more learning, observed, in reference to their methodical manner of life, that a new sect of Methodists had sprung up, alluding to the ancient school of physicians known by that name. They lived under Nero, and were remarkable for putting their patients under regimen and administering their applications by rule and method," and were therefore called Methodists. “The name of Methodist,” it is observed by one of the correspondents of Wesley" is not a new name, never before given to any religious people. Dr. Calamy, in one of his volumes of the ejected ministers, observes, they called those who stood up for God, Methodists.” It is altogether probable, that before, as well as since the distinct existence of the sect of Methodists, whoever distinguished themselves from their neighbors by a stricter profession and more scrupulous performance of the duties of religion, were occasionally styled Methodists, Methodical, Methodistical. Be this as it may, a certain fitness in it to indicate the peculiar habits of the first teachers of Methodism gave it general vogue; and it has now become, by universal consent, the appellation of the sect which they founded.
It was to Charles Wesley and his few associates that the name was first given. When John returned to Oxford, they gladly placed themselves under his direction; their meetings acquired more form and regularity, and obtained an accession of numbers. His standing and character in the University gave him a degree of credit; and his erudition, his keen logic, and ready speech, commanded respect wherever he was known. But no talents, and, it may be added, no virtues, can protect the possessor from the ridicule of fools and profligates. "I hear," says Mr. Wesley, the father of these youthful apostles, “my son John has the honor of being styled the father of the