Page images
PDF
EPUB

SECTION II.

A Review of Mr. Wesley's Character, by

Doctor Whitehead.

Many

ANY particulars of Mr. Wesley's Lite, both of a public and private vature, have already been detailed; and I hope in such a manner as to enable the intelligent reader, by this time, to form an opinion of his character upon good evidence. But we must remember that some particular circumstances, or a few occasional acts in a man's life, do not forın his character, but the general tenor of his conduct. Because this shews some fixed principle that uniformly operates upon him, which, with a correspondent practice forins his character. And when a long, virtuous, and useful life, is crowned with an end suitable to it, death puts a stamp upon his virtues; which shews us they are not counterfeit, but genuine. If the candid render will review Mr. Wesley's whole life, and judge of him by this rule, I am persuaded he will think with me, that, whatever failings as a man he might have, he had a degree of excellence in his character to which few men have attained.

But, to complete the picture which I have attempted to draw, it is necessary that some features in it should be more strongly marked. Some persons have affected to insinuate that Mr. Wesley was a man of slender capacity ; but certainly with great injustice. Ilis apprehension was clear, his penetration quick, and his judgment discriminative and sound: of which his controversial writings, and his celebrity in the office he held at Oxford, when young, are sufficient proofs. In governing a large body of Preachers and people, of various habits, interests, and principles, with astonishing calmness and regularity for many years; he shewed a strong capacious mind, that could comprehend and combine together a rast variety of circumstances, and direct their influence through the great body he governed-As a scholar, he certainly held a conspicuous rank. He was a critic in the Latin and Greek classics ; and was well acquainted with the Hebrew, as well as with most of the European languages, now in:

use. But the Greek was his favourite language, in which his knowledge was extensive and accurate At College, be had studied with a good deal of care, Euclid, Keil, Sir Isaac

Naston's

Newton's Optics, &c. &c., but he never entered far into the more abstruse parts, or the higher branches of the mathematics ; finding they would fascinate his mind, and absorb all bis attention, and divert him from the pursuit of the more important objects of his own profession. He was no great friend to metaphysical disquisitions : and I must own that I always thought that he held metaphysical reasoning, even when properly and modestly conducted, in too low estimation. But this, I apprehend, proceeded chiefly from the incompetency of most of those who have entered upon these kinds of speculations, and the mischief which he observed their writings had done, both in the affairs of civil life, and also in religion--He was a 'most determined opposer of those systems of natural philosophy, which repre. sent the powers of matter as the efficient causes of all the phenomena of nature; whereby God is banished out of the world, and all things, even the actions of men, are supposed to be determined by laws unalterably fixed, no place being left for the interpositions of a superirtending providence. He doubted, but did not deny, the truth of the calculations of the planetary distances, and some other parts of modern Astronomy-Natural History was a field in which he walked at every opportunity, and contemplated with infinite pleasure, the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God, in the structure of natural bodies, and in the various instincts and habits of the animal creation. But he was obliged to view these wonderful works of God, in the labours and records of others'; his various and continual employments of a higher nature, not permitting him to make experiments and observations for himself.

As a writer, he certainly possessed talents, both from nature and education, sufficieut to procure him considerable reputation." But Mr. Wesley did not write for fame; his object was to instruct and benefit that sumerous class of people, who have a plain understanding with plain ccminion sense, little learning, little money, and but little time to spare for reading. In all his writings he constantly kept these circumstances in view. Content with doing good, he used no trappings merely to please, or to gain applause. The distinguishing character of his style is, brevity and perspicuity, He never lost sight of the rule which Horace gives,

Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se
Impediat verbis lassas onerantibus aures.

Coucise your diction, let you sense be clear,
Nor, with a weight of words fatigue the ear.”

In his works we may observe, his words are well chosen, being pure, proper to his subject, and pricise in their meaning: llis sentences commonly have clearness, unity, and strength; and whenever be took time, and gave the necessary attention to his subject, both his manner of treating it, and bis style, shew the hand of a master.

The following is a just character of Mr. Wesley as a Preacher. "llis attitude in the pulpit was graceful and easy; his action calm and natural, yet pleasing and expressive : his voice not loud, but clear and manly ; his style neat, simple, and perspicuous; and admirably adapted to the capacity of his hearers. His discourses, in point of composition, were extremely different on different occasions. When he gave himself suficient time for study, he succeeded; but when he did not he frequently failed.”—It was indeed manifest to his friends for inany years before he died, that his employment were too many, and he preached too often, to appear with the same advantage at all times in the pulpit. His sermous were always short: he was seldom more than half an hour in delivering a discourse, sometimes not so long. His subjects were judiciously chosen ; instructive and interesting to the audience, and well adapted to gain attention and warm the heart.

The travels of Mír. Iesley in the work of the ministry, for fifty years together, are, I apprehch!, without precedeat. During this period, he travelled about four thousand fire hundred miles every year, one year with another; which give two hundred and twenty-five thousand miles, that he travelled after he become an itinerant Preacher! It had been impossi. ble for bim to perform, this almost incredible degree of labour, without great punctality and care in the management of his time. He had stated hours for every purpose : and his only relaxation was a change of employment. His rules were like the laws of the Medes and Persians, absolute and irreyocable. lle had a peculiar pleasure in reading and study; and every literary man knows the force of this passion, how apt it is to make him encroach on the time which ought to be einployed in other duties: he had a high relish for polite conversation, especially with pious, learned, and sensible nien ; but whenever the hour came he was to set out on a journey, he instantly quitted any subject or any company in which he might be engaged, without any apparent reluctance.--- For fifty-two years, or "pwards, he generally delivered two, frequently three or four sermons in a day. But calculating at two sermons a day, and allowing, as a writer of his life has done, fifty annually for extraordinary occasions, the whole number Huring this period will be, forty

timpusand

[ocr errors]

thousand five hundred and sixty. To thèse might be added, an infinite number of exhortations to the societies after preaching, and in other occasional meetings at which he assisted.

“ In social life, Mr. Hesley was lively and conversible.” He had most exquisite talents to make himself agreeable in company: and having been much accustomed to society, the rules of good breeding were habitual to him. The abstraction of a scholar did not appear in his behaviour ; he was attentive and polite. He spoke a good deal where he saw it was expected, which was almost always the case wherever be visited: his invitations to the best families being generally given to shew him respect, and to hear him converse on the different subjects proposed. Having seen much of the world in his travels, and read more, his mind was well stored with an infinite number of anecdotes and observations ; and the manner in which he related them, was no inconsiderable addition to the entertainment they afforded. And in private life among his friends, his manner was equally sprightly and pleasant. It was impossible to be long in his company, either in public or private, without partaking of his placid cheerfulness; which was not abated by the infirmities of age, or the approach of death ; but was as conspicuous at fourscore and seven, as at one and twenty.

This part of Mr. Wesley's character is genuine, being drawn from a view of his life and manners. But how dit ferent from an observation made upon him, by Dr. Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury; in a letter dated January 1750.* The Archbishop says, Whitefield is Daniel Burgess redivirus ; and to be sure, he finds his account in his jocoserious addresses. The other author (Mr. John Wesley) in my opinion, with good parts and more learning, is a nost dark and saturnine creature.” As it is evident the Archbishop knew nothing of either of these gentlemen, but by the report of those as ignorant as himself, or from some uncertaiu conjecture, this censure shews great want of liberality; and the editor of these letters would have done more credit to his friend's memory if he had suppressed it.

The late celebrated Dr. Johnson, was remarkably fond of sprightly, rational, polite conversation. And, I apprehend, there was no better judge in England of a man's talents in this way, than the Doctor. He was personally acqnainted with Mr. Wesley, and his judgment of Mr. Wesley's manner of conversation is left on record. He said, “Mr. Wesley's conversation is good; be talks well on any subject; I could converse with hiin all night.” But Dr. Johnson, would certainly not have expressed hiinself in this strong language

of See the Archbishop's letters to William Duocombe, Esq. printed in 1777, page 171.

of approbation, had Mr. Wesley been that dark, saturnise creature, represented by Archbishop Herring.

“ A remarkable feature in Mr. Wesley's character, was his placability.” Having an active penetrating mind, his temper was naturally quick, and even tending to sharpness. The influence of religion, and the constant habit of close thinking, had in a great measure corrected this disposition. “ In general he preserved an air of' sedateness and tranquillity, which formed a striking contrast to the liveliness conspicuous in all his actions.” Persecution, abuse, or injury, he bore from strangers, not only without anyer, but without any apparent emotion, and what he said of himself was strictly true: that he had a great facility in forgiving injuries. “Submission on the part of the 'offender, presently disarmed bis resent. ment, and he would treat him with great kindness and cordiality.”-No man was ever more free from jealousy or suspicion than Mr. Wesley, or laid himself more open to the impositions of others. Though his confidence was often abused, and circumstances sometimes took place, which would bave made almost any other man suspect every body about him, yet he suspected no one; nor was it easy to convince him, that any one had intentionally deceived him. Aud when facts had demonstrated that this was actually the case, he would allow no more, than that it was so in that single in. stance. And if the person acknowledged his fault, he believed him sincere, and would trust him again. If we view this temper of his mind in connexion with a circumstance before nientioned, that his most private concerns lay open to the inspection of those constantly about him, it will attord as strong a proof as can well be given, of the integrity of his own mind; and that he was at the furthest distance from any intention to deceive, or impose upon others.

The temperance of Mr. Wesley was extraordinary." When at college he carried it so far, that his friends thought him blamable. But he never imposed upon others, the same degree of rigour he exercised upon himself. He only said, I must be the best judge of what is hurtful, or beneficial to

Among other things, he was remarkable in the article of sleep; and his notion of it cannot be better explaioed, than in his own words. Healthy men, (says he) require above six hours sleep ; healthy women, a little above seren, in four and twenty.

If any one desires to know exactly what quantity of sleep his own constitution requires, be may very easily make the experiment, which I made about sixty years ago. I then waked every night about twelve or one, and lay awake for some time. I readily concluded, that this arose frown my being in bed longer than nature required.

TO

me.

« PreviousContinue »