During his years at Oxford John became associated with the "Holy Club," a group of serious churchmen committed to a methodically rigorous regimen of religious observance with the brothers John and Charles Wesley as the leading spirits. Their remarkable earnestness manifested itself in ascetic living, regular devotions, charitable works, and solemn discussion, but it was unenlightened by the Gospel.
"I began to fast twice a week for thirty-six hours together," Whitefield wrote in later years, "prayed many times a day and received the sacrament every Lord's Day. I fasted myself almost to death all the forty days of Lent, during which I made it a point of duty never to go less than three times a day to public worship, besides seven times a day to my private prayers. Yet I knew no more that I was to be born a new creature in Christ Jesus than if I had never been born at all."
Deeply dissatisfied at heart, the reading of a book with the title The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal made plain to him the necessity of personal commitment to and union with Christ as Saviour and Lord. Desperately seeking this relationship, he increased his self-affliction to such an extent that his weakness brought him near to death. At last, however, the grace of God enabled him to trust solely in Christ instead of in his own religious exercises: "God was pleased to remove the heavy load," he testified, "to enable me to lay hold of His dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption, to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption."
His life continued to be one of zeal and self-discipline and was carefully planned from day to day; but from now on his overruling desire was to proclaim Christ and his grace to the world.