Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Holy Club: if it be so, I am sure I must be the grandfather of it; and I need not say, that I had rather any of my sons should be so dignified and distinguished, than to have the title of His Holiness.” This club was finally composed of the following persons, the originators and first champions of Methodism. Mr. John Wesley, fellow of Lincoln College, Mr. Charles Wesley, student of Christ's Church, Mr. Richard Morgan, of Christ's Church, Mr. Kirkham, of Merton College, Mr. Benjamin Ingham, of King's College, Mr. Broughton, of Exeter, Mr. Clayton, of Brazen Nose College, Mr. James Hervey, author of the Meditations, which have acquired such celebrity, and Mr. George Whitefield, of Pembroke College. Some six or eight of their pupils also joined them, and the whole company amounted to fifteen.

The finger of God is evident in thus bringing together, during the forming period of their characters, those, whom His providence had appointed to be the chief agents in restoring the power to the form of godliness. Mr. Whitefield always reverted to his acquaintance with the Rev. Charles Wesley with affectionate interest. Mr. Wesley's ministry was so full of profit and consolation to him, that he always accounted him his spiritual father. And the reciprocal affection felt by Mr. Wesley stands recorded in the verses at the beginning of Mr. Whitefield's second and third journals.

Meanwhile, it may not be unwise to retrace his spiritual progress. A character so ardent and precipitate by nature, might be expected to miscarry itself, and misguide others, in the early stages of an enterprise of breaking up inveterate habits of spiritual drowsiness, and erecting a new standard of religious character. Undisciplined in logic, not far-sighted or comprehensive in the character of his mind, but vehement and impetuous beyond example in his feelings, and of quick and fertile imagination, he came directly at conclusions, as it were, by intuition, which others only reached by long and laborious deduction, and only admitted as parts of a system self-consistent throughout. In reading a treatise entitled "The Life of God in the Soul of Man," wherein he found it asserted, that true religion is a union of the soul with God or Christ, formed within us, a ray of divine light, he says, instantaneously darted in upon him, and from that moment he knew he must be a new creature.

In seeking however to attain that "peace of mind that passeth all understanding," his vehemence and ardency of character betrayed him into many ill-judged processes of moral discipline and self-subjugation.

He describes himself as having all sensible comforts with

drawn from him, overwhelmed with a horrible fearfulness and dread, all power of meditation, or even thinking, taken away, his memory gone, his whole soul barren and dry, and his sensations, as he imagined, like those of a man locked up in iron armor. “Whenever I knelt down,” he says, “I felt great pressure both on soul and body; and have often prayed under the weight of them till the sweat came through me. God only knows how many nights I have lain upon my bed, groaning under what I felt. Whole days and weeks have I spent in lying prostrate on the ground in silent or vocal prayer.” In this state he began to practice austerities, such as the monkish discipline encourages : he chose the worst food, and affected megn apparel; he made himself remarkable by leaving off powder in his hair, when every one else was powdered, because he thought it becoming a penitent; and he wore woollen gloves, a patched gown, and dirty shoes, as visible signs of humility. Such conduct drew upon him contempt, insult

, and the more serious consequence, that part of the pay on which he depended for his support was taken from him by men who did not choose to be served by so slovenly a servitor. Other practices injured his health: he would kneel under the trees in Christ Church walk, in silent prayer, shivering the while with cold, till the great bell summoned him to his college for the night; he exposed himself to cold in the morning till his hands were quite black : he kept Lent so strictly, that, except on Saturdays and Sundays, his only food was coarse bread and sage tea, without sugar. The end of this was, that before the termination of forty days he had scarcely strength enough left to creep up stairs, and was under a physician for many weeks.

At the close of the severe illness which he had thus brought on himself

, a happy change of mind confirmed his returning health ;--it may best be related in his own words. He says, “ Notwithstanding my fit of sickness continued six or seven weeks, I trust I shall have reason to bless God for it through the endless ages of eternity. For, about the end of the seventh week, after having undergone innumerable buffetings of Satan, and many months inexpressible trials, by night and by day, under the spirit of bondage, God was pleased at length to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold on his dear Son by a living faith, and, by giving me the spirit of adoption, to seal me, as I humbly hope, even to the day of everlasting redemption. But oh! with what joy, joy unspeakable, even Joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled, when the weight of sin went off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God, and a full assurance of faith, broke in upon my disconsolate soul! Surely it was the day of my espousals,--a

day to be had in everlasting remembrance. At first my joys were like a spring tide, and, as it were, overflowed the banks. Go where I would I could not avoid singing of psalms almost aloud; afterwards they became more settled, and, blessed be God, saving a few casual intervals, have abode and increased in my soul ever since.”

The Wesleys at this time were in Georgia; and some person, who feared lest the little society, which they had formed at Oxford, should be broken up and totally dissolved for want of a superintendent, had written to a certain Sir John Philips of London, who was ready to assist in religious works with his purse,

and recommended Whitefield as a proper person to be encouraged and patronized more especially for this purpose. Sir John immediately gave him an annuity of 201., and promised to make it 301., if he would continue at Oxford ;– for if this could be leavened with the vital spirit of religion, it would be like medicating the waters at their spring. His illness rendered it expedient for him to change the air, and he went accordingly to his native city, where, laying aside all other books, he devoted himself to the study of the scriptures, reading them upon his knees, and praying over every line and word. “Thus," as he expresses himself," he daily received fresh life, light, and power from above; and found it profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, every way sufficient to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto every good word and work." His general character, his demeanor at church, his visiting the poor, and praying with the prisoners, attracted the notice of Dr. Benson, the then bishop of Gloucester, who sent for him one day, after the evening service, and having asked his

age,

which was little more than twenty-one, told him, that although he had resolved not to ordain any one under three-and-twenty, he should think it his duty to ordain him whenever he came for holy orders. Whitefield himself had felt a proper degree of fear at undertaking so sacred an office; his repugnance was now overruled by this encouragement, and by the persuasion of his friends, and as he preferred remaining at Oxford, Sir John Philips's allowance was held a sufficient title by the bishop, who would otherwise have provided him with a cure. Whitefield prepared himself by abstinence and prayer; and on the Saturday eve, retiring to a hill near the town, he there prayed fervently for about two hours, in behalf of himself and those who were to enter into holy orders at the same time. On the following morning he was ordained. "I trust," he says, “I answered to every question from the bottom of my heart; and heartily prayed that God might say Amen. And when the bishop laid his hands upon my head,

if my vile heart doth not deceive me, I offered up my whole spirit, soul and body, to the service of God's sanctuary.”. “Let come what will, life or death, depth or height, I shall henceforwards live like one who this day, in the presence of men and angels, took the holy sacrament, upon the profession of being inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon me that ministration in the church. I can call heaven and earth to witness, that when the bishop laid his hand upon me, I gave myself up to be a martyr for Him who hung upon the cross for me. Known unto him are all future events and contingencies; I have thrown myself blindfold, and I trust, without Teserve, into His Almighty hands.” Such were his feelings at the hour, and they were not belied by the whole tenor of his after life.

Bishop Benson appears to have felt a sincere regard for the young man whom he had thus ordained, little aware of the course which he was designed to run. Whitefield speaks at this time of having received from the good prelate another present of five guineas; "a great supply,” he says, "for one who had not a guinea in the world.” He began with as small a stock of sermons as of wordly wealth. It had been his intention to have prepared at least a hundred, wherewith to commence his ministry ;-he found himself with only one; it proved a fruitful one; for having lent it to a neighboring clergyman, to convince him how unfit he was, as he really believed himself to be, for the work of preaching, the clergyman divided it into two, which he preached morning and evening to his congregation, and sent it back with a guinea for its use. With this sermon he first appeared in the pulpit, in the church of St. Mary de Crypt, where he had been baptized, and where he had first received the sacrament. Curiosity had brought together a large congregation ; and he now, he says, felt the unspeakable advantage of having been accustomed to public speaking when a boy at school, and of exhorting and teaching the prisoners and poor people at Oxford.* More than this, he

*"Last Sunday in the afternoon I preached my first sermon in the church where I was baptized, and also first received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Curiosity drew a large congregation together. The sight at first, a little awed me. But I was comforted with a heart-felt sense of the Divine Presence; and as soon found the advantage of having been accustomed to public speaking when a boy at school, and of exhorting and teaching the prisoners, and poor people at their private houses, whilst at the Universiiy. By these means I was kept from being daunted over-much. As I proceeded, I perceived the fre kindled, till at last, though so young, and amidst a crowd of those who knew me in my childish days, I trust I was enabled to speak with some degree of gospel authority. Some few mocked, but most, for the present, seened struck: and I have since heard, that a complaint had been made to the Bishop, that I drove fifteen mad the first sermon. The worthy prelate, as I am informed, wished that the madness might not be forgotten before next Sunday.”

but upon

felt what he believed to be a sense of the Divine presence, and kindling as he went on in his belief, spake, as he thought, with some degree of gospel authority. A few of his hearers mocked,

the greater number a strong impression was produced, and complaint was made to the Bishop that fifteen persons had been driven mad by the sermon. The good man replied, he wished the madness might not be forgotten before the next Sunday.

That same week he returned to Oxford, took his degree, and continued to visit the prisoners, and inspect two or three charity schools which were supported by the Methodists. With this state of life he was more than contented, and thought of continuing in the University, at least for some years, that he might complete his studies, and do what good he might among the gownsmen; to convert one of them would be as much as converting a whole parish. From thence, however, he was invited ere long to ofliciate at the Tower chapel, in London, during the absence of the curate. It was a summons which he obeyed with fear and trembling; but he was soon made sensible of his power; for though the first time he entered a pulpit in the metropolis the congregation seemed disposed to sneer at him on account of his youth, they grew serious during his discourse, showed him great tokens of respect as he came down, and blessed him as he passed along, while inquiry was made on every side, from one to another, who he was. Two months he continued in London, reading prayers every evening at Wapping chapel, and twice a week at the Tower, preaching and catechising there once; preaching every Tuesday at Ludgate prison, and daily visiting the soldiers in the infirmary and barracks. The chapel was crowded when he preached, persons came from different parts of the town to hear him, and proof enough was given that an earnest minister will make an attentive congregation.

Having returned to Oxford, the society grew under his care, and friends were not wanting to provide for their temporal support. Lady Betty Hastings allowed small exhibitions to some of his disciples : he himself received some marks of wellbestowed bounty, and was intrusted also with money for the poor. It happened after a while that Mr. Kinchin, the minister of Dummer, in Hampshire, being likely to be chosen Dean of Corpus Christi College, invited him to officiate in his parish, while he went to Oxford, till the election should be decided. Here Whitefield found himself among poor and illiterate people, and.his proud heart, he says, could not at first brook the change; he would have given the world for one of his Oxford friends, and “mourned for the want of them like a dove." He found,

« AnteriorContinuar »