J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

The Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago online

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quence of the report he heard of his preaching powers. The
day was rainy, the congregation comparatively thin, and the
beginnins: of the sermon rather heavy. Our American friend
began to say to himself, " This man is no great wonder after
all." He looked round, and saw the congregation as little
interested as himself. One old man, in front of the pulpit, had
fallen asleep. But all at once Whitefield stopped short. His
countenance changed. And then he suddenly broke forth in
an altered tone : " If I had come to speak to you in my own
name, you might well rest your elbows on your knees, and your
heads on your hands, and sleep ; and once in a while look up,
and say, What is this babbler talking of? But I have not
come to you in my own name. No ! I have come to you in
the name of the Lord of Hosts" (here he brought down his
hand and foot with a force that made the building ring), " and
I must and will be heard." The congregation started. The
old man woke up at once. " Ay, ay ! " cried Whitefield, fixing
his eyes on him, " I have waked you up, have I % I meant to
do it. I am not come here to preach to stocks and stones : I
have come to you in the name of the Lord God of Hosts, and
I must, and will, have an audience." The hearers were stripped
of their apathy at once. Every word of the sermon after this
was heard with deep attention, and the American gentleman
never forgot it.

One more feature in Whitefield's preaching deserves special
notice ; and that is, the inwicnse amount of pathos and feeling
which it always contained. It was no uncommon thing with
him to weep profusely in the pulpit. CorneHus Winter, who
often accompanied him in his latter journeys, went so far as to
say that he hardly ever knew him get through a sermon without
some tears. There seems to have been nothing of affectation
in this. He felt intensely for the souls before him, and his
feelings found an outlet in tears. Of all the ingredients of his



WHITE FIELD AS AN ORATOR. 55

success in preaching, none, I suspect, were so powerful as this.
It awakened affections and touched Secret springs in men
which no amount of reasoning and demonstration could have
moved. It smoothed down the prejudices which many had
conceived against him. They could not hate the man who
wept so much over their souls. " I came to hear you," said
one to him, " with my pocket full of stones, intending to break
your head ; but your sermon got the better of me, and broke
my heart." Once become satisfied that a man loves you, and
you will listen gladly to anything he has to say.

I will now ask the reader to add to this analysis of White-
field's preaching, that even by nature he possessed several of
the rarest gifts which fit a man to be an orator. His actio?i was
perfect — so perfect that even Garrick, the famous actor, gave it
unqualified praise. His zwV^ was as wonderful as his action — •
so powerful that he could make thirty thousand people hear
him at once, and yet so musical and well toned that some said
he could raise tears by his pronunciation of the word " Meso-
potamia." His maimer in the pulpit was so curiously graceful
and fascinating that it was said that no one could hear him for
five minutes without forgetting that he squinted. His fluency
and command of appropriate language were of the highest
order, prompting him always to use the right word and to put
it in the right place. Add, I repeat, these gifts to the things
already mentioned, and then consider whether there is not
sufficient in our hands to account for his power and popularity
as a preacher.

For my own part, I have no hesitation in saying that I believe
no English preacher has ever possessed such a combination of
excellent qualifications as Whitefield. Some, no doubt, have
surpassed him in some of his gifts ; others, perhaps, have
equalled him in others. But for a well-balanced combination
of some of the finest gifts that a preacher can possess, united
with an unrivalled voice, manner, delivery, action, and com-



56 HIS PRIVATE CHARACTER.

mand of words, Whitefield, I repeat my opinion, stands alone.
No Englishman, I believe, dead or alive, has ever equalled him.
And I suspect we shall always find that, just in proportion as
preachers have approached that curious combination of rare
gifts which Whitefield possessed, just in that very proportion
have they attained what Clarendon defines true eloquence to
be — " a strange power of making themselves beUeved."

The inner life and personal character of this great spiritual
hero of the last century are a branch of my subject on which I
shall not dwell at any length. In fact, there is no necessity for
my doing so. He was a singularly transparent man. There
was nothing about him requiring apology or explanation. His
faults and good qualities were both clear and plain as noon-day.
I shall therefore content myself with simply pointing out the
prominent features of his character, so far as they can be
gathered from his letters and the accounts of his contempo-
raries, and then bring mj sketch of him to a conclusion.

He was a man of deep and unfeigned Jumiility. No one can
read the fourteen hundred letters of his, published by Dr.
Gillies, without observing this. Again and again, in the very
zenith of his popularity, we find him speaking of himself and
his works in the lowliest terms. " God be merciful to me a
sinner," he writes on September ii, 1753, "and give me, for
his infinite mercy's sake, an humble, thankful, and resigned
heart. Truly I am viler than the vilest, and stand amazed at
his employing such a wretch as I am." " Let none of my
friends," he writes on December 27, 1753, "cry to such a
sluggish, lukewarm, unprofitable worm. Spare thyself. Rather
spur me on, I pray you, with an Awake, thou sleeper, and
begin to do something for thy God." Language like this, no
doubt, seems foolishness and affectation to the world ; but the
well-instructed Bible reader will see in it the heartfelt experience
of all the brightest saints. It is the language of men like
Baxter, and Brainerd, and M'Cheyne. It is the same mind



HIS DILIGENCE AND SELF-DENIAL. 57

that was in the inspired Apostle Paul. Those that have most
light and grace are always the humblest men.

He was a man of burning love to our Lord Jesus Christ.
That name which is " above every name" stands out inces-
santly in all his correspondence. Like fragrant ointment, it
gives a savour to all his communications. He seems never
weary of saying something about Jesus. " My Master," as
George Herbert said, is never long out of his mind. His love,
his atonement, his precious blood, his righteousness, his readi-
ness to receive sinners, his patience and tender dealing with
saints, are themes which appear ever fresh before his eyes. In
this respect, at least, there is a curious likeness between him
and that glorious Scotch divine, Samuel Rutherford.

He was a man of wnvearied diligence and laboriousncss about
his Master's business. It would be difficult, perhaps, to name
any one in the annals of the Churches who worked so hard for
Christ, and so thoroughly spent himself in his service. Henry
Venn, in a funeral sermon for him, preached at Bath, bore the
following testimony : — " What a sign and wonder was this man
of God in the greatness of his labours ! One cannot but stand
amazed that his mortal frame could, for the space of near thirty
years, without interruption, sustain the weight of them ; for
what so trying to the human frame, in youth especially, as long-
continued, frequent, and violent straining of the lungs % Who
that knows their structure would think it possible that a person
little above the age of- manhood could speak in a single week,
and that for years — in general forty hours, and in very many
weeks sixty — and that to thousands; and after this labour,
instead of taking any rest, could be offering up prayers and
intercessions, with hymns and spiritual songs, as his manner
was, in every house to which he was invited % Tlie truth is,
that in point of labour this extraordinary servant of God did as
much in a few weeks as most of those who exert themselves are
able to do in the space of a year."



58 CHEERFULNESS OF HIS NATURE.

He was to the end a man of emment self-denial. His st3^1e of
living was most simple. He was remarkable to a proverb for
moderation in eating and drinking. All through life he was an
early riser. His usual hour for getting up was four o'clock,
both in summer and winter ; and equally punctual was he in
retiring about ten at night. A man of prayerful habits, he fre-
quently spent whole nights in reading and devotion. Cornelius
Winter, who often slept in the same room, says that he would
sometimes rise during the night for this purpose. He cared
little for money, except as a help to the cause of Christ, and
refused it, when pressed upon him for his own use, once to the
amount of ;,{^7ooo. He amassed no fortune, and founded no
wealthy family. The little money he left behind him at his
death arose entirely from the legacies of friends. The Pope's
coarse saying about Luther, " This German beast does not love
gold," might have been equally applied to Whitefield.

He was a man of remarkable disinterestedness and singleness of
eye. He seemed to live only for two objects — the glory of God
and the salvation of souls. Of secondary and covert objects
he knew nothing at all. He raised no party of followers who
took his name. He established no denominational system, of
which his own writings should be cardinal elements. A favour-
ite expression of his is most characteristic of the man : " Let the
name of George Whitefield perish, so long as Christ is exalted."

He was a man of a singularly happy and cheerful spirit. No
one who saw him could ever doubt that he enjoyed his religion.
Tried as he was in many ways throughout his ministry — slan-
dered by some, despised by others, misrepresented by false
brethren,' opposed everywhere by the ignorant clergy of his
time, worried by incessant controversy — his elasticity never
failed him. He was eminently a rejoicing Christian, whose
very demeanour recommended his Master's service. A vene-
rable lady of New York, after his death, when speaking of the
influences by which the Spirit won her heart to God, used these



HIS CHARITY A iXD CATHOLICITY. 59

remarkable words, — "Mr. Whitefield was so cheerful that it
tempted me to become a Christian."

Last, but not least, he was a man of extraordinary charity^
catholicity^ and liberality, in his religion. He knew nothing of
that narrow-minded feeling which makes some men fancy that
everything must be barren outside their own camps, and that
their own party has got a complete monopoly of truth and
heaven. He loved all who loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sin-
cerity. He measQred all by the measure which the angels
use, — " Did they profess repentance towards God, faith towards
our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of conversation 1" If they
did, they were as his brethren. His soul was with such men,
by whatever name they were called. Minor differences were
W'Ood, hay, and stubble to him. The marks of the Lord
Jesus were the only marks he cared for. This catholicity is
the more remarkable when the spirit of the times he lived in is
considered. Even the Erskines, in Scotland, wanted him to
preach for no other denomination but their own — viz., the
Secession Church. He asked them, " Why only for them ?" —
and received the notable answer that " they were the Lord's
people." This was more than Whitefield could stand. He
asked " if there were no other Lord's people but themselves ;"
he told them, "if all others were the devil's people, they cer-
tainly had more need to be preached to ;" and he wound up by
informing them, that " if the Pope himself would lend him his
pulpit, he would gladly proclaim the righteousness of Christ in
it." To this catholicity of spirit he adhered all his days. If
other Christians misrepresented him, he forgave them ; and it
they refused to work with him, he still loved them. Nothing
could be a more weighty testimony against narrow-mindedness
than his request, made shortly before his death, that, when he
did die, John Wesley should be asked to preach his funeral
sermon. Wesley and he had long ceased to agree about Cal
vinistic points ; but Whitefield, to the very last, was determined



6o NO T WITIIO UT FA UL 715".

to forget minor differences, and to regard Wesley as Calvin did
Luther, "only as a good servant of Jesus Christ." On another
occasion a censorious professor of religion asked him " whether
he thought they would see John Wesley in heaven?" "No,
sir," was the striking answer ; " I fear not. He will be so near
the throne, and we shall be at such a distance, that we shall
hardly get a sight of him."

Far be it from me to say that the subject of this chapter was
a man without faults. Like all God's saints, he was an imper-
fect creature. He sometimes erred in judgment. He often
drew rash conclusions about Providence, and mistook his own
inclination for God's leadings. He w^as frequently hasty both
with his tongue and his pen. He had no business to say that
"Archbishop Tillotson knew no more of the gospel than Ma-
homet." He was wrong to set down some people as the Lord's
enemies, and others as the Lord's friends so precipitately and
positively as he sometimes did. He was to blame for denounc-
ing many of the clergy as "letter-learned Pharisees," because
they could not receive the doctrine of the new birth. But still,
after all this has been said, there can be no doubt that in the
main he was an eminently holy, self-denying, and consistent
man. " The faults of his character," says an American writer,
" were like spots on the sun — detected without much difficulty
by any cool and careful observer who takes pains to look for
them, but to all practical purposes lost in one general and genial
effulgence." Well indeed would it be for the Churches of our
day, if God was to give them more ministers hke the great
evangelist of England a hundred years ago !

It only remains to say that those who wish to know more
about Whitefield would do well to peruse the seven volumes of
his letters and other publications, which Dr. Gillies edited in
1770. I am much mistaken if they are not agreeably surprised
at their contents. To me it is matter of astonishment that,
amidst the many reprints of the nineteenth century, no pul)-



EX TRA C TS FR OJf SERMOiV. 6 i

lisher lias yet attempted a complete reprint of the works of
George Whitefield.

A short extract from the conclusion of a sermon preached by
Whitefield on Kennington Common, may be interesting to some
readers, and may serve to give them some faint idea of the
great preacher's style. It was a sermon on the text, "What
think ye of Christ T' (Matt. xxii. 42.)

" O my brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you. I trust
I feel something of that hidden but powerful presence of Christ,
whilst I am preaching to you. Indeed it is sweet — it is ex-
ceedingly comfortable. All the harm I wish you who without
cause are my enemies, is that you felt the like. Believe me,
though it would be hell to my soul to return to a natural state
again, yet I would willingly change states with you for a little
while, that you might know what it is to have Christ dwelling
in your hearts by faith. Do not turn your backs. Do not let
the devil hurry you away. Be not afraid of convictions. Do
not think worse of the doctrine because preached without the
church walls. Our Lord, in the days of his flesh, preached on
a mount, in a ship, and a field ; and I am persuaded many have
felt his gracious presence here. Indeed, we speak what we
know. Do not therefore reject the kingdom of God against
yourselves. Be so wise as to receive our witness.

" I cannot, I will not let you go. Stay a little, and let us
reason together. However lightly you may esteem your souls,
I know our Lord has set an unspeakable value on them. He
thought them worthy of his most precious blood. I beseech
you, therefore, O sinners, be ye reconciled to God. I hope you
do not fear being accepted in the Beloved. Behold, he calleth
you. Behold, he prevents, and follows you with his mercy,
and hath sent forth his servants into the highways and hedges
to compel you to come in.

"Remember, then, that at such an hour of such a day, \\\
such a year, in this place, you were all told what you ought to



62 SPECIMEN OF HIS PREACHING.

think concerning Jesus Christ. If you now perish, it will not be
from lack of knowledge. I am free from the blood of you all.
You cannot say I have been preaching damnation to you. You
cannot say I have, like legal preachers, been requiring you
to make bricks without straw. I have not bidden you to make
yourselves saints and then come to God. I have offered you
salvation on as cheap terms as you can desire. I have offered
you Christ's whole wisdom, Christ's whole righteousness, Christ's
whole sanctification and eternal redemption, if you will but
believe on him. If you say you cannot believe, you say right ;
for faith, as well as every other blessing, is the gift of God. But
then wait upon God, and who knows but he may have mercy
on thee.

" Why do we not entertain more loving thoughts of Christ %
Do you think he will have mercy on others and not on you %
Are you not sinners'? Did not Jesus Christ come into the
world to save sinners?

" If you say you are the chief of sinners, I answer that will be
no hindrance to your salvation. Indeed it will not, if you lay
hold on Christ by faith. Read the Evangelists, and see how
kindly he behaved to his disciples, who had fled from and
denied him. ' Go, tell my brethren^ says he. He did not say,
' Go, tell those traitors,' but, ' Go, tell my brethren and Peter'
It is as though he had said, ' Go, tell my brethren in general,
and Peter in particular, that I am risen. Oh, comfort his poor
drooping heart. Tell him I am reconciled to him. Bid him
weep no more so bitterly. For though with oaths and curses
he thrice denied me, yet I have died for his sins ; I have risen
again for his justification : I freely forgive him all." Thus slow
to anger and of great kindness, was our all-merciful High Priest.
And do you think he has changed his nature and forgets poor
sinners, now he is exalted to the right hand of God % No ; he
is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever ; and sitteth there
only to make intercession for us.



• SPECIMEN OF HIS PREACHING. d^

" Come, then, ye harlots ; come, ye publicans ; come, yc
most abandoned sinners, come and believe on Jesus Christ.
Though the whole world despise you and cast you out, yet he
will not disdain to take you up. Oh amazing, oh infinitely con-
descending love ! even you he will not be ashamed to call his
brethren. How will you escape if you neglect such a glorious
offer of salvation ? What would the damned spirits now in the
prison of hell give if Christ was so freely offered to them % kx\(\
why are we not lifting up our eyes in torments % Does any one
dlit of this great multitude dare say he does not deserve damna-
tion ] Why are we left, and others taken away by death % What
is this but an instance of God's free grace, and a sign of his
good-will toward us % Let God's goodness lead us to repentance.
Oh, let there be joy in heaven over some of you repenting ! "'



<^



IV.

n Sltcski) nnir bis Utinistrn.




CHAPTER I.

John Wesley — Reason why better known than many of his Contemporaries — Birth-place-
Sketch of his Father and Mother — Educated at Charter-House and Oxford — Early
Keligious History — Ordained, 1725 — Lives at Oxford eight Years — Joins the Methodise
Club — Sails for Georgia, 1736 — Returns to England, 1738 — Commences Field-preach-
ing — Continues Working for fifty-three Years — Dies in 1791 — Singleness of Eye, Dili-
gence, and Versatility of Mind — Arminianlsm.

HE second in the list of English Reformers of the last
century, whose history I propose to consider, is a man
of world-wide reputation — the famous John Wesley.
The name of this great evangelist is perhaps better known
than that of any of his fellow-labourers a hundred years ago.
This, however, is easily accounted for. He lived to the ripe
old age of eighty-eight. For sixty-five years he was continually
before the eyes of the public, and doing his Master's work in
every part of England. He founded a new religious denomina-
tion, remarkable to this very dayifor its numbers, laboriousness,
and success, and justly proud of its great founder. His life has
been repeatedly written by his friends and followers, his works
constantly reprinted, his precepts and maxims reverentially
treasured up and embalmed, like Joseph's bones. In fact, if
ever a good Protestant has been practically canonised, it has
been John Wesley ! It would be strange indeed if his name
was not well known.



JOHN WESLEY'S BIRTH. 65

Of such a man as this I cannot pretend to give more than a
brief account in the short space of a few pages. The leading
facts of his long and well-spent life, and the leading features of
his peculiar character, are all that I can possibly compress into
the limits of this memoir. Those who want more must look
elsewhere.*

John Wesley was born on the 17th of June 1703, at Epworth,
in North Lincolnshire, of which parish his father was rector.
He was the ninth of a family of at least thirteen children, com-
prising three sons and ten daughters. Of the daughters, those
who grew up made singularly foolish and unhappy marriages.
Of the sons, the eldest, Samuel, was for some years usher of
Westminster School, and an intimate friend of the famous Bishop
Atterbury, and finally died head-master of Tiverton School.
The second, John, was founder of the Methodist communion ;
and the third, Charles, was almost throughout life John's com-
panion and fellow-labourer.

John Wesley's father was a man of considerable learning and
great activity of mind. As a writer, he was always bringing out
something either in prose or in verse, but nothing, unhappily
for his pocket, which was ever acceptable to the reading public,
or is much cared for in the present day. As a politician, he
was a zealous supporter of the Revolution which brought into
England the House of Orange ; and it was on this account that
Queen Mary presented him to the Crown living of Epworth.
As a clergyman, he seems to have been a diligent pastor and
preacher, of the theological school of Archbishop Tillotson.
As a manager of his worldly affairs, he appears to have been
most unsuccessful. Though rector of a living now valued at
^1000 a-year, he was always in pecuniary difficulties, was once

* The principal lives of Wesley by Methodist hands are those of Whitehead, Moore,
and Watson. Southey's well-known life of Wesley is not a fair book, and the unfavour-
able animus of the writer throughout is painfully manifest. The best, most impartial, and
most complete account of Wesley is one published by Seelej^ in 1856, by an anonymous
writer.

ayo) 5



66 JOHN WESLEY'S PARENTS.

in prison for debt, and finally left his widow and children almost
destitute. When I add to this that he was not on good terms
with his parishioners, and, poor as he was, insisted on going up
to London every year to attend the very unprofitable meetings
of Convocation for months at a time, the reader will probably
agree with me that, like too many, he was a man of more
book-learning and cleverness than good sense.

The mother of John Wesley was evidently a woman of extra-

, ordinary power of mind. She was the daughter of Dr. Annes-
ley, a man well known to readers of Puritan theology as one of
the chief promoters of the Morning Exercises, and ejected from
St. Giles', Cripplegate, in 1662. From him she seems to have

, inherited the masculine sense and strong decided judgment
which distinguished her character. To the influence of his
mother's early training and example, John Wesley, doubtless,
was indebted for many of his peculiar habits of mind and quali-
fications. •

Her own account of the way in which she educated all her
children, in one of her letters to her son John, is enough to
show that she was no common woman, and that her sons were
not likely to turn out common men. She says, "None of them
was taught to read till five years old, except Keziah, in whose
case I was over-ruled ; and she was more years in learning than
any of the rest had been months. The way of teaching was
this : the day before a child began to learn, the house was set
in order, every one's work appointed them, and a charge given



Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 5 of 36)