Pastor Charles Whitfield
Long-time Pastor in Northern England
By David Douglas, 1846
Charles Whitfield was born in Weardale in 1748. [From "A Brief History of Hamsterley Baptist Church".]
As the care of all the churches came on Paul, so it may be truly said, that the care of all the churches, in his own denomination, in the northern counties, for nearly half a century, devolved on the shoulders of the Rev. Charles Whitfield, of Hamsterley, in the county of Durham.
The state of spiritual religion in the North of England was, at the commencement of Mr. Whitfield's ministry, but in a very languid condition.
On the 27th May, 1774, Mr. Whitfield was ordained. Mr. Hartley of Haworth, and Mr. Crabtree of Bradford, were the officiating ministers on the occasion.
Of Mr. Whitfield's characteristics in point of capacity, disposition, conduct, and motives, little more now need be said than what has been presented in the foregoing narrative, detailing his useful career, both in the church over which he had been nearly fifty years the overseer, and also towards others in the association.
As a pastor, Mr. Whitfield was distinguished by two qualities in particular; he was diligent and affectionate. As regards his assiduity, we have already referred to his studying five hours a day, while he was an apprentice, besides attending to all his other duties to his master in business hours. This disposition he carried with him into the ministry. He read every useful book that came within his reach; and, considering his means, his library was not a small one. Besides English works on theology, Biblical criticism, &c., he had a number of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew works of a superior character; all of which, but particularly the Hebrew, he was able to peruse with great advantage. In composing his sermons, his care and diligence were very conspicuous. He generally wrote out his sermons in full; and of the many he thus composed, he selected annually as many as formed a volume, which he bound; and thus, by the time of his decease, he had collected about fifty volumes of his own sermons in manuscript. But he was not only assiduous in preparing for preaching, but in attending to the hour of worship with extreme punctuality. Whoever was absent, Mr. Whitfield was always there in time. This was the case with him even when living at the distance of two miles from Hamsterley. At prayer meetings through the week, and on the Lord's day, Mr.
Whitfield was ever first. His diligence in point of family economy has been already referred to.
But Mr. Whitfield was affectionate as well as diligent. He was so to the people of his charge. He loved them dearly. It is true he was like other men, he loved those most who to him seemed most to deserve it, and those personally attached had usually a good return. He loved not only his charge, but all in the village and vicinity, in which it was his lot, for about fifty years, to dwell. An anecdote has been told of him, that, when he died, he said, if they saw his heart, they would find Hamsterley written on it. Whether the anecdote is correct or not, it shews the impression made on the minds of others regarding his extreme attachment to the place of his charge. The writer had the anecdote from a most respectable and learned individual. As testifying with certainty, however, his attachment to the village, he got up a day school in it, for the benefit of those who were unable to educate their children. Through his influence, several of his wealthier friends became subscribers; and he was himself, with all his scantiness of means, amongst the highest of the subscribers, and continued his subscription when most others had failed.
Mr. Whitfield was not a great visitor of his people, but he was ever at the bedside of the afflicted, when he could do them good; and his hand was ever open to relieve the distressed, to the utmost of his power.
Mr. Whitfield, was a friend to other churches as well as his own. Over Rowley, Newcastle, Stockton, and indeed more, or less, all the other churches in the association, he ever cast a wakeful eye; and, to the utmost of his ability, either personally, or through his influence, gave them assistance, at critical periods. It was the same in relation to their ministers. Towards
Mr. Hartley and others, his equals, he acted a truly fraternal part, and discovered the heart of a father towards, his juniors. For a number of years, it might be truly said, that he was the head, the heart, and the hand of the association, in both the eastern and western districts of the four Northern counties. Towards the whole Baptist Denomination, Mr. Whitfield was an attached member, and its Missions - Home, Irish, and Foreign - he endeavoured to sustain, to the utmost of his capability. He was also a lover of all good men, and good ministers, as well as a lover of the immortal interests of his fellow-creatures generally, as attested by his unwearied labours connected with the Evangelical Association.
Mr. Whitfield's views were in accordance with those of Mr. Fuller. He was a moderate Calvinist, and a strict Baptist, though a lover of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. His personal appearance was good. He was tall, portly, and of goodly aspect. He appeared well in the pulpit, but was never popular as a preacher, from the circumlocution that usually attended his explanations, and an ever-recurring hem, in his enunciation, owing to an asthmatic affection.
Mr. Whitfield had many excellencies, and if he had not had a few faults, he would not have been mortal. He was, naturally, of a sanguine temperament, and while he had a large portion of the good of that temperament, he had a share of the evil. He was warm in his temper, and, sometimes, rather overbearing in his manner. From his attachment to legal studies, he occasionally was able to give good advice to his friends; but, as his knowledge on this intricate subject must have been very incomplete, he sometimes, unhappily, led both himself and them wrong. But, generally speaking, his endeavour, as far as he knew it, was to act uprightly in all his doings. His record, however, is now on high. He is now
personally beyond the reach of either the praises or censures of mortals.
Mr. Whitfield's funeral sermon was preached, by Mr. B. Pengilly, from 2nd Timothy iv. 6, 7; and the church and congregation erected a stone in the grave-yard of the chapel, where he had laboured for upwards of fifty years, to perpetuate their sense of his worth, and to testify to future generations, the high esteem in which they held his character. He died, 18th July, 1821, aged 73.
[From David Douglas, History of the Baptist Churches in the North of England, From 1648 to 1845, 1846, pp. 199-200, 209, 264-267; via Internet Archives. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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