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THE History and Character of the Rev. GEORGE
WHITEFIELD are very generally known. There are yet alive in our country, many who acknowledge him as their Father in Christ; and “will rise up, and call his memory blessed.” We presume, however, that the following Anecdotes respecting him are unknown to the most of our readers, and will be perused with interest and profit. Their truth and correctness are not to be doubted; as they are related by one who was well acquainted with Mr. Whitefield's most private history. They are extracted from Mr. Jay's Memoirs of the Rev. CORNELIUS WINTER.
THE time Mr. Whitefield set apart for preparations for the pulpit during my connexion with him, was not to be distinguished from the time he appropriated to other business. If he wanted to write a pamphlet upon any occasion, he was closeted; nor would he allow access to him, but on an emergency, while he was engaged in the work. But I never
knew him engaged in the composition of a sermors until he was on board ship, when he employed bimself partly in the composition of sermons, and reading very attentively the history of England, written by different authors. He had formed a design of writing the history of Methodism, but never entered
He was never more in retirement on a Saturday than on another day; nor sequestered at any particular time for a period longer than he used for his ordinary devotions. I never met with any thing like the form of a skeleton of a sermon among his papers, with which I was permitted to be very familiar; nor did he ever give me any idea of the importance of being habituated to the planning of a sermon. It is not injustice to his great character to say, I believe he knew nothing about such a kind of exercise.
Usually for an hour or two before he entered the pulpit, he claimed retirement; and on a sabbath day morning more particularly, he was accustomed to have Clarke's Bible, Matthew Henry's Comment, and Cruden’s. Concordance, within his reach : his frame at that time was more than ordinarily devotional ; I say more than ordinarily, because, though there was a vast vein of pleasantry usually in him, the intervals of conversation evidently appeared to be filled up with private ejaculation connected with praise. His rest was much interrupted, and his thoughts were much engaged with God in the night. He has often said at the close of his very warm address, “ This sermon I got when most of you who now hear me were fast asleep.” He made very minute observations, and was much disposed to be conversant with life, from the lowest mechanic to the first characters in the land. He let nothing escape him, but turned all into gold that admitted of im
provement; and, in one way or another, the occurrence of the week or the day, furnished him with matter for the pulpit.--A specimen : when an extraordinary trial was going forwards, he would be present; and on observing the formality of the judge putting on his black cap to pronounce sentence, I have known him avail bimself of it in the close of a sermon; with his eyes full of tears, and his heart almost too big to admit of speech, dropping into a momentary pause--"I am going now to put on my condemning cap: sinner, I must do it; I must pronounce sentence upon you—” and then, in a tremendous strain of eloquence, recite our Lord's words, “Go, ye cursed,” not without a very powerful description of the nature of the curse.
I again observe, that it would be only by hearing him, and by beholding his attitude and his tears, that a person could well conceive of the effect; for it was impossible but that solemnity must surround him, who, under God, became the means of making all solemn.
He had a most peculiar art of speaking personally to you, in a congregation of four thousand people, when no one would suspect his object. If I instance it in an effect upon the servant of the house, I presume it is not unsuitable. She had been remiss in her duty in the morning of the day. In the evening, before the family retired to rest, I found her under great dejection, the reason of which I did not apprehend; for it did not strike me, that in exemplifying a conduct inconsistent with the Christian's professed fidelity to his blessed Redeemer, he was drawing it from remissness of duty in a living character; but she felt it so sensibly as to be greatly distressed by it, until he relieved her mind by his usually amiable deportment. The next day, being about to leave town, he called out to her, “ Farewell ; she did not make her appearance, which he remarked to a female friend at dinner, who replied, “Sir, you have exceedingly wounded poor Betty," which excited in him a hearty laugh ; and when I shut the coach door upon him, he said,
“ Be sure to remember me to Betty ; tell her the account is settled, and that I have nothing more against her.”
The famous Comedian, Shuter, who had a great partiality for Mr. Whitefield, showed him friendship, and often attended his ministry. At one period of his popularity he was acting in a drama under the character of Ramble. During the run of the performance he attended service on sabbath morning at Tottenham-court chapel, and was seated in the pew exactly opposite to the pulpit, and while Mr. Whitefield was giving full sally to his soul, and in his energetic address, was inviting sinners to the Saviour, he fixed himself full against Shuter, with his eye upon him, adding, to what he had previously said, " And thou, poor Ramble, who hast long rambled from him, come you also. O end your rambling by coming to Jesus."
Shuter was exceedingly struck, and coming in to Mr. Whitefield said, " I thought I should have fainted; how could you serve me so?”—It was truly impressive to see him ascend the pulpit. My intimate knowledge of him admits of my acquitting him of the charge of affectation, He always appeared to enter the pulpit with a significance of countenance, that indicated he had something of importance which he wanted to divulge, and was anxious for the effect of the communication. His gravity on his descent was the same. As soon as ever he was seated in his chair, nature demanded relief, and gained it by a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quan
tity of blood, before he was at liberty to speak. He was averse to much singing after preaching, supposing it diverted the savour of the subject. Nothing awkward, nothing careless, appeared about him in the pulpit; nor do I ever recollect his stumbling upon a word. To his ordinary, as well as to his public appearance, this observation applies ; whether he frowned or smiled, whether he looked grave or placid, it was nature acting in him.
Professed orators might object to his hands being lifted up too high, and it is to be lamented that in that attitude, rather than in any other, he is represented in print. His own reflection upon that picture was, when it was first put into his hands, “Sure I do not look such a sour creature as this sets me forth : if I thought I did, I should hate myself.” It is necessary to remark that the attitude was very transient, and always accompanied by some expressions which would justify it. He sometimes had occasion to speak of Peter's going out and weeping bitterly, and then he had a fold of his gown at command, which he put before his face with as much gracefulness as familiarity.
I hardly ever knew bim go through a sermon without weeping, more or less, and I truly believe his were the tears of sincerity. His voice was often interrupted by his affection; and I have heard him say in the pulpit
, “ You blame me for weeping, but how can I help it, when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are upon the verge of destruction, and for aught you know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you.” His freedom in the use of his passions often put my pride to the trial. I could hardly bear such unreserved use of tears, and the scope he gave to