Whitefield had left London, and was laboring among a poor and illiterate people in Hampshire, when his attention was directly drawn to Georgia. This was not, indeed, the first time his heart had been interested in the matter.
He writes, "When I had been about a month in town, letters came from the Messrs. Wesley, and the Rev. Ingham their fellow-laborer, an Israelite indeed, from Georgia. Their accounts fired my soul, and made me long to go abroad for God too.
But having no outward call, and being as I then thought too weak in body ever to undertake a voyage at sea, I endeavored to lay aside all thoughts of going abroad. But my endeavors were all in vain; for I felt at times such a strong attraction in my soul towards Georgia, that I thought it almost irresistible.
I strove against it with all my power, begged again and again, with many cries and tears, that the Lord would not suffer me to be deluded, and at length opened my mind to several dear friends. All agreed that laborers were wanted at home, that I had as yet no visible call abroad, and that it was my duty not to be rash, but wait and see what Providence might point out to me. To this I consented with my whole heart. The path of duty, however, soon opened before him. While fulfilling his duties at Dummer, in Hampshire, preaching for the Rev. Kinchin, who was now absent from home, to which labors we have already referred, he received an invitation to a lucrative curacy in London; but Georgia still rested like one of the prophetic "burdens" on his mind.
At this juncture he received a letter from his clerical friend at the Tower, saying that Mr. Charles Wesley had arrived in London. Very soon Mr. Wesley himself wrote to Whitefield, saying, that he was come over to procure laborers, "but," added he, "I dare not prevent God's nomination. Whitefield, "came another letter from Mr. John Wesley, wherein were these words: 'Only Mr. Delamotte is with me, till God shall stir up the hearts of some of his servants, who putting their lives in their hands, shall come over and help us, where the harvest is so great, and the laborers so few.
What if thou art the man, Mr. Food to eat and raiment to put on, a house to lay your head in--such as our Lord had not--and a crown of glory that fadeth not away. After having consulted his bishop, Dr. Benson, as also the archbishop of Canterbury, and the trustees of Georgia including General James Oglethorpe who was then in London, he went to Bristol, Bath, and other places, to take leave of his personal friends.
As he could not refrain from preaching, so every sermon increased his popularity. We give his account of his preaching at Bristol, as a specimen of the reception he met with. 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 not only publicly attended my ministry, but gave me private invitations to their houses. A private society or two were erected. I preached and collected for the poor prisoners in Newgate twice or thrice a week, and many made me large offers if I would not go abroad. Having mentioned General James Edward Oglethorpe, the first governor, and indeed the founder of the colony of Georgia, and to the end of Whitefield's life his cordial friend, a few additional facts concerning him may here be stated.
At sixteen he was admitted a student at Oxford, but did not finish his studies, as the military profession had more charms for him than literary pursuits. He was first commissioned as an ensign. After the death of Queen Anne, he entered into the service of Prince Eugene. When he attained the age of twenty-four years, he entered Parliament, for Haslemere, where he continued thirty-two years. In November, , Oglethorpe, with one hundred and sixteen settlers, embarked for Georgia, and landed at Charleston, S.
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They shortly afterwards proceeded to Georgia, where Oglethorpe laid out a town, and called it Savannah. He very happily secured the good will of the Indians. In , he left Georgia for England, to answer charges brought against him by Lieutenant-colonel Cook. A court martial declared the charges groundless and malicious, and Cook was dismissed from the service.
In he was appointed one of the field-officers under field-marshal the Earl of Stair, to oppose the expected invasion of France.
He died in He was truly a noble man. As the period approached when Whitefield was to leave England, the people showed their esteem for him in almost every possible way. They followed him so closely, and in such numbers, for holy counsels, that he could scarcely command a moment for retirement.
They begged to receive from him religious books, and to have their names written therein with his own hand, as memorials of him, and very many followed him from place to place till his final embarkation. It was indeed a surprising fact, that a young man, scarcely more than twenty-two years of age, and previously unknown to the world, should be able to collect such immense congregations, and rouse and command their attention; multitudes hanging upon and receiving instructions from his lips.
But God had endowed him with a singular union of qualities, which most eminently fitted him for the work of an evangelist.
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He was faithful to his trust, and his divine Master abundantly blessed and honored him in the discharge of its momentous duties. We have now traced the amazing effects of Whitefield's first sermons, and it may be interesting briefly to inquire into their general character, and to ascertain what truths thus aroused the public mind. Three of these sermons can, happily, be identified with these "times of refreshing;" and they may be depended on, as specimens of both the letter and the spirit of his preaching, because they were printed from his own manuscripts: they are those on "Early Piety," "Regeneration," and "Intercession.
The topics of the second and third, and the tone of all the three, are very different from the matter and manner of sermonizing then known to the masses of the people. They do not surprise us, because happily neither the topics nor the tone of them are "strange things to our ears. When or where had an appeal been made like this?
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 strong-holds, 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 souls' sake, for Christ'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.
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There is a fascination as well as fervor, or rather a fascination arising from fervor, in some of his earliest as well as his later discourses. How bold and beautiful is the peroration of that on "Intercession. Since our happiness is so much to consist in the communion of saints in the church triumphant above, shall we not frequently intercede for the church militant below, and earnestly beg that we may be all one?
To provoke you to this work and labor of love, remember, that it is the never-ceasing employment of the holy and highly exalted Jesus himself; so that he who is constantly interceding for others, is doing that on earth which the eternal Son of God is always doing in heaven. Imagine, therefore, when you are lifting up holy hands for one another, that you see the heavens opened, and the Son of God in all his glory, as the great High-priest of your salvation, pleading for you the all-sufficient merit of his sacrifice before the throne.
Join your intercession with his. The imagination will strengthen your faith, and excite a holy earnestness in your prayers. The nearer the time approached for his leaving the country, the more affectionate the people grew towards him, and the more eagerly did they attend on his ministry.
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Many thousands of ardent petitions were presented to heaven on behalf of his person and his ministry; and multitudes would stop him in the aisles of the churches, or follow him with their tearful looks. Most of all was it difficult for him to part from his friends at St. Dunstan's, where he administered the sacrament, after spending the night before in prayer. The man who had produced these extraordinary effects, says Dr.
Gillies, had many natural advantages. He was something above the middle stature, well proportioned, though at that time slender, and remarkable for native gracefulness of manner. His complexion was very fair, his features regular, his eyes small and lively, of a dark blue color: in recovering from the measles, he had contracted a squint with one of them; but this peculiarity rather rendered the expression of his countenance more rememberable, than in any degree lessened the effect of its uncommon sweetness. His voice excelled both in melody and compass, and its fine modulations were happily accompanied by the grace of action which he possessed in an eminent degree, and which is said to be the chief requisite of an orator.
An ignorant man described his eloquence oddly, but strikingly, when he said that Mr. Whitefield preached like a lion. So strange a comparison conveyed no unapt idea of the force, and vehemence, and passion--of the authority which awed the hearers, and made them tremble like Felix before the apostle. Believing himself to be the messenger of God, commissioned to call sinners to repentance, he spoke as one conscious of his high credentials, with authority and power; yet in all his discourses there was a fervor and melting charity, an earnestness of persuasion, an outpouring of redundant love, partaking of the virtue of the faith from which it flowed, insomuch that it seemed to enter the heart which it pierced, and to heal it as with a balm.
At length, having preached in a considerable number of the London churches, collected about a thousand pounds for the charity schools, and obtained upwards of three hundred pounds for the poor in Georgia, Whitefield left London, December 28, , in the twenty-third of his age, and went in the strength of God, as a poor pilgrim, on board the Whitaker.
Scarcely had he entered on his voyage from London, when he discovered that but little comfort was to be expected in the ship on which he had embarked.