The New Zealand Evangelist
He was the prince of English preachers. Many have surpassed him as sermon makers, but none have approached him as a pulpit orator. Many have outshone him in the clearness of their logic, the grandeur of their conceptions, and the sparkling beauty of their single sentences; but in the power cf darting the gospel direct into the conscienoe he eclipsed them all. With a full and beaming countenance, and the frank and easy port which the English people love-for it is the symbol of honest purpose and friendly assurance-he combined a voice of rich compass, which could equally thrill over Moorfields in musical thunder, or whisper its terrible secret in every private ear; and to this gainly aspect and tuneful voice he added a most expressive and eloquent action. Improved by conscientious practice, and instinct with his earnest nature, this elocution was the acted sermon, and by its pantomimic page 253 portrait enabled the eye to anticipate each rapid utterance, and helped the memory to treasure up the palpable ideas. None ever used so boldly, nor with more success, the highest styles of impersonation. His ‘Hark! hark!'could conjure up Gethsemane with its faltering moon, and awake again the cry of horror-stricken innocence; and an apostrophe to Peter on the holy mount would light up another Tabor, and drown it in glory from the opening heaven. His thoughts were possessions, and his feelings were transformations; and if he spake because he felt, his hearers understood because they saw. They were not only enthusiastic amateurs, like Garrick, who ran to weep and tremble at his bursts of passion; but even the colder critics of the Walpole school were surprised into momentary sympathy and reluctant wonder. Lord Chesterfield was listening in Lady Huntingdon's pew when Whitfield was comparing the benighted sinner to a blind beggar on a dangerous road. His little dog gets away from him when skirting the edge of a precipice, and he is left to explore the road with his iron-shod staff. On the very edge of the cliff, this blind guide slips through his fingers, and skims away down the abyss. All unconscious, its owner stoops down to regain it, and stumbling forward—“Good God! he is gone! shouted Chesterfield, who had been watching with breathless alarm the blind man's movements, and who jumped from his seat to save the catastrophe. But the glory of Whitefield's preaching was its heart-kindled and heart-melting gospel. But for this, all his bold strokes and brilliant surprises might have been no better than the rhetorical triumphs of Kirwan, and other pulpit dramatists. He was an orator, but he only sought to be an evangelist. Like a volcano where gold and jems may be darted forth, as well as common things, but where gold and molten granite flow all alike in fiery fusion, bright thoughts and splendid images might be projected from his flaming pulpit; but all were merged in the stream which bore along the gospel and himself in blended fervour. Indeed, so simple was his nature, that glory to God and good-will to man to having filled it, there was room for little more. Having no church to found, no family to enrich, and no memory to immortalise, he was the mere ambassador of God; and inspired with its genial, piteous spirit—so full of heaven reconciled, and humanity restored—he soon himself became a living gospel. Radiant with its benignity, and trembling with its tenderness, by a sort of spiritual induction a vast audience would speedily be brought into a frame of mind, the transfusion of his own; and the white furrows on their sooty faces told that Kingswood colliers were weeping, or the quivering of an ostrich plume bespoke its elegant wearer's deep emotion. And coming to his work direct from communion with his master, and in all the strength of accepted prayer, there was an elevation in his mien which often paralyzed hostility, and a self-possession which only made him, amid uproar and fury, the more sublime. With an electric bolt he would bring the jester in his fool's cap from his perch on the tree, or galvanise the brick-bat from the skulking miscreant's grasp, or sweep down in crouching page 254 submission and shame-faced silence the whole of Bartholomew Fair; while a revealing flash of sententious doctrine or vivified scripture, would disclose to awe-struck hundreds the forgotten verities of another world, or the unsuspected arcana of the inner man. “I came to break your hend, but, through you, God has broken my heart,” was a sort of confession with which he was familiar; and to see the deaf old gentlewoman, who used to mutter imprecations against him as he passed along the street, clambering up the pulpit stairs to catch his angelic words, was a sort of spectacle which the triumphant gospel often witnessed in his day. And when it is known that his voice could be heard by 20,000, and that ranging all the empire, as well as America, he would often preach thrice on a working-day, and that he received in one week as many as a thousand letters from persons awakened by his sermons; if no estimate can be formed of the results of his ministry, some idea may be suggested of its vast extent and singular effectiveness.