For those of you who want to experience the full journal of John Wesley, which runs to eight volumes and covers fifty five years, you could read it nicely broken down here, which I was pleased to notice when I visited now looks a bit swankier (and has more options too). I don’t know if anyone knows of a better online source of spiritual reading? It’s quicker, with the CCEL, to ask what isn’t there, than what is.
But having once loaned one volume of the journal from a library, and read some of it, and had to take it back, I was delighted to pick up a second-hand Lion imprint of Christopher Idle’s abridged volume. One of its joys is the citations appended to the tops of the chapters from other sources, such as Sam Johnson’s definition of a Methodist from his dictionary: “One of a new kind of puritans lately arisen, so called from their profession to live by rules and in constant method.” (Of course, that chapter was the year 1755). Other chapter headings are reminders of Wesley’s publications such as his ‘Notes on the New Testament’, occasioned by illness, or his remarkable natural remedies, for example for the pleurisy: “Take out the core of an Apple, fill it with white Frankincense; stop it close with the piece you cut out, and roast it in the ashes. Mash and eat it.” He published a book called ‘Primitive Physick’. The chapter headings also include a liberal sprinkling of stanzas from Charles’ effusive hymns, of course. My favourite, I think, is George Whitefield’s plea to his distinguished unbelieving friend Ben Franklin:
“As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly repay you for all your pains.”
It is this reasonable, earnest and loving tone, I feel, that drew so many to hear not only Whitefield, but John Wesley himself.
The Journal has reminded me of the astonishing difference between John Wesley’s hapless early missionary attempt in Georgia, and the high demand that he was in wherever he went in England after he had been invited into field preaching by Whitefield, and following the spiritual benefit that he received from the Moravians on board ship. Just the hints of what he spoke on, and his heart for the people, blaze out from odd comments that Idle has well-selected:
“At eight in the evening I stood again on my father’s tomb (as I did every evening this week), and cried aloud to the earnestly attentive congregation, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith.’ ”
“At six I preached for the last time in Epworth churchyard to a vast multitude gathered together from all parts. I continued among them for near three hours; and yet we scarce knew how to part. Oh let none think his labour of love is lost because the fruit does not immediately appear! Near forty years did my father labour here, but he saw little fruit of all his labour. I took some pains among this people too, and my strength also seemed spent in vain; but now the fruit appeared.”
Both of these entries come from 1742, quite near the start of his ministry. The volume has a few details (and this does make me want to acquire the full journal) of smaller gatherings: “I administered the Lord’s Supper to a sick person, with a few of our brethren and sisters. Being straitened for time, I used no extemporary prayer at all; yet the power of God was so unusually present during the whole time that several knew not how to contain themselves, being quite overwhelmed with joy and love.” 1750
And to finish on an amusing note (for now), reflecting on the level of opposition and hatred levelled against Wesley wherever he went:
“I found them all under strange consternation. A mob, they said, was hired, prepared and made sufficiently drunk in order to do all manner of mischief. They attended us from the preaching-house, throwing dirt, stones, and clods in abundance; but they could not hurt us. After we were gone in to the house they began throwing great stones, in order to break the door. Exactly while they burst in at one door, we walked out at the other.
They filled the house at once, and proposed setting it on fire, but one of them, happening to remember that his own house was next, with much ado persuaded them not to do it.”
This is almost a parable of the stubbornness and self-punishing pride or foolishness of those who will not allow the Saviour of their lives to enter in and to be Lord of all!