Whitefield, George

, founder of the Calvinistic methodists, was born at Gloucester, where his father kept the Bell inn, Dec. 16, 1714. He was the youngest of a family of six sons and a daughter; and his father dying when he was only about two years old, the care of his education devolved on his mother, who brought him up with great tenderness. Being placed at school, he made considerable progress in classical learning; and his eloquence began to appear when he was about fourteen or fifteen, in the speeches which he delivered at the annual school visitations. During this period, he resided with his mother; and as her circumstances were not so easy as before, he sometimes assisted her in the business of the inn. By some means, however, he was encouraged to go to Oxford at the age of eighteen, where he entered of Pembroke college. He had not been here long, before he became acquainted with the Wesleys, and joined the society they had formed, which procured them the name of Methodists. Like them, Whitefield, who had been of a serious turn in his early days, began now to live by rule, and to improve every moment of his time. He received the communion every Sunday, visited the sick and the prisoners in jail, and read to the poor; and he shared in the obloquy which this conduct brought upon his brethren.

In the mean time, he became a prey to melancholy, which was augmented, if not occasioned, by excessive bodily austerities; and at last, in consequence of reading | some mystic writers, he was led to imagine, that the best method he could take was, to shut himself up in his study, till he had perfectly mortified his own will, and was enabled to do good, without any mixture of corrupt motives. From this, however, he was recovered, returned to society, and we may suppose was not neglectful of his studies; for when only twenty-one years of age he was sent for by Dr. Benson, bishop of Gloucester, who told him that though he had purposed to ordain none under twenty-three, yet he should reckon it his duty to ordain him whenever he applied. He was accordingly admitted to deacon’s orders at Gloucester June 20, 1736, and the Sunday following preached his first sermon in the church of St. Mary de Crypt. Curiosity brought a vast auditory to hear their young townsman. Some idea of the sermon may be learned from what he says himself of it in one of his letters. “Some few mocked, but most, for the present, seemed struck; and I have since learned, 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.

The week following he returned to Oxford, and took his bachelor’s degree in arts, soon after which he was invited to London to officiate at the chapel of the Tower. He preached also at various other places, and while here letters came from the Wesleys at Georgia, which made him desirou’s to join them, but he was not yet quite clear as to this being his duty. He afterwards supplied a curacy at Durnmer, in Hampshire, and being at length convinced that it was his duty to go to Georgia, he went in Jan. 1737 to take leave of his friends in Gloucester, and then set out for London. General Oglethorpe detaining him here for some months, he preached in various churches, and appears at this time to have attained as great popularity as at any subsequent period of his life, and he met also with part of the same opposition which be had afterwards to encounter.

On the last day of December he set sail, and arrived at the parsonage-house at Savannah May 7, 1738, where he remained until August. In our article of Wesley we noticed how very unsuccessful he had been in this employment from a variety of causes, but principally of a personal nature. Whitefield met with a very different reception, and appears to have deserved it. When he began to | look about him, he found every thing bore the aspect of an infant colony, and was likely to continue so, from the very nature of its constitution. “The people,” he says, “were denied the use both of rum and slaves. The lands were allotted them, according to a particular plan, whether good or bad; and the female heirs prohibited from inheriting. So that, in reality, to place people there, on such a footing, was little better than to tie their legs and bid them walk,” &c. As some melioration of their condition, he projected an Orphan-house, for which he determined to raise contributions in England, and accordingly embarked in September, and after a boisterous passage, landed at Limerick in Ireland. There he was received kindly by bishop Burscough, who engaged him to preach in the cathedral; and at Dublin, where he also preached, he was courteously received by Dr. Delany, bishop Rundle, and archbishop Bolton. In the beginning of December he arrived at London, where the trustees of the colony of Georgia expressed their satisfaction at the accounts sent to them of his conduct, and presented him to the living of Savannah (though he insisted upon having no salary), and granted him five hundred acres of land for his intended Orphan-house, to collect money for which, together with taking priest’s orders, were the chief motives of his returning to England so soon.

In the beginning of January 1739 he was ordained priest at Christ-church, Oxford, by bishop Benson, and on the following Sunday resumed his preaching in London; and now the vast crowds which attended, first suggested to him the thought of preaching in the open air. When he mentioned this to some of his friends, they judged it was mere madness, nor did he begin the practice until he went to Bristol in February, and finding the churches denied to him, he preached on a hill at Kingswood to the colliers, and after he had repeated this three or four times, his congregation is said to have amounted to near twenty thousand. That any human voice could be heard by such a number is grossly improbable, but that in time he was enabled to civilize the greater part of these poor colliers has never been denied. “The first discovery,” he tells us, “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,” After this he preached often in the open air in the vicinity of London, particularly | in Moorfields and on Kennington common, and made excursions into various parts of the country, where he received contributions for his Orphan-house in Georgia. In August he embarked again for America, and landed in Pennsylvania in October. Afterwards he went through that province, the Jerseys, New York, and back again to Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, preaching every where to immense congregations, and in the beginning of Jan. 1740 arrived at Savannah, where he founded, and in a great measure established, his Orphan-house, by the name of Bethesda. He then took another extensive tour through America, and returned to England in March 1741.

On his arrival he found it necessary to separate from Wesley, whose Arminian sentiments he disapproved of; and he now, with the help of some colleagues, began to form distinct societies of persons who held Calvinistic sentiments. This produced in a short time a new house at Kingswood, and the two Tabernacles in Moorfields and Tottenham-court-road, which were supplied by himself and certain lay preachers, He visited also many parts of England, where similar societies were established, and went to Scotland, where he preached in all the principal towns. In Scotland he was more generally welcomed than any where else, the doctrines he preached according with those of that church, but some refused communion with him, as being a clergyman of the church of England, and of course a friend to prelacy, which in Scotland is abjured. Such was his encouragement, however, upon the whole, that he was induced to repeat his visit in 1742. From this time to August 1744 he remained in England, preaching from place to place, and always with astonishing effect on the minds of his hearers. In August 1744 he embarked again for America, whence he returned in July 1748.

Soon after his return he had become acquainted with Lady Huntingdon, who hearing of his arrival invited him, to her house at Chelsea. He went, and having preached twice, the countess wrote to him that several of the nobility desired to hear him In a few days the celebrated earl of Chesterfield, and others of the same rank, attended, and having heard him once, desired they might hear him again. “I therefore preached again,” says he, “in the evening, and went home, never more surprised at any incident in xny life. All behaved quite well, and were in some degree | affected. The earl of Chesterfield thanked me, and said,” Sir, I will not tell you what I shall tell others, how I approve of you,‘ or words to this purpose. At last lord Bolingbroke came to hear, sat like an archbishop, and was pleased to say, ’ I had done great justice to the Divine Attributes in my discourse'." Those who know the characters of Bolingbroke and Chesterfield will probably think less of these compliments than Mr. Whitefield appears to have done.

It would extend this article beyond all reasonable bounds were we to follow Mr. Whitefield’s biographer throughout the whole of his peregrinations in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America. His last great movement was his seventh voyage to Georgia, where he exhausted his strength in his painful labours, and died, of a fit of the asthma, at Newbury Port, in New England, Sept. 30, 1770, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.

His biographer informs us, that his person was graceful and well-proportioned; his stature above the middle size. Excepting a squint with one eye, his features were good and regular. His countenance was manly, and his voice vras exceeding strong; yet both were softened with an uncommon degree of sweetness. His deportment was easy, without any formality, and his manner polite, and rather engaging. That he possessed a high degree of eloquence, cannot well be doubted, but he had no affectation, and seemed quite unconscious of the talents he possessed. At first he was more attentive to the apparent than the real effects of his eloquence, but as he grew older distrusted those sudden conversions of which he was perpetually told.

Although we have called Whitefield the founder of the Calvinistic rnethoclists, it would perhaps be more proper to say that he was the reviver of Calvinism in these kingdoms. He left indeed a few places of worship, yet in most instances, he was satisfied with impressing upon the multitudes who flocked to hear him, the importance of their salvation, and leaving them to the constant care of their regular clergymen, or dissenting ministers with whom he maintained communion. But to those distinct congregations which he had raised, have been added, what is called lady Huntingdon’s connection; and since his death the successors at his chapels have laboured diligently to extend their pale, and have formed what is called the union of the Calvinist methodists, which may be considered as | having amalgamated the different parties into one body. It has been remarked by a late writer, as a striking difference between Wesley and Whitefield, that “while Wesley was drilling his followers into a regular system, with all the policy of the catholic fathers of Paraguay, and thus raising a well-disciplined army, which moved obsequious to his commanding voice; his less politic brother neglected to provide for the perpetuity of his name, and with generous indifference to self, raised only a popular standard, around which detached parties of flying troops voluntarily ranged themselves.” Whitefield’s Works, practical and controversial, were published in 6 vols. 8vo. 1


Life by Gillies.