Category Archives: Books

UM: New book on Wesley in Georgia

United Methodist Church talks with author Geordan Hammond on his new book “John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity, published by Oxford University Press.

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Tuttle: John Wesley, His Life and Theology

I just finished reading Robert Tuttle’s John Wesley, His Life and Theology. This is a 368-page book published in 1978 by Francis Asbury Press. The book is divided into four sections: The Early Years, His Early Ministry, Aldersgate and The Revival. Each section has five chapters and a section of analysis and bibliography. The book is unusual in that Tuttle writes in first person as Wesley. He traces Wesley’s changing understanding of his relationship with Jesus. In his youth, Wesley is influenced by his parents. Both are Anglicans who chose their own path after growing up in the homes of dissenting clergy. At Oxford, Wesley studies Kempis, Taylor and Law, mystics that point him towards holiness. Through his life lessons and efforts to train others in ministry, his beliefs change over time. Tuttle writes:

For the whole of his life, John Wesley remained a hairs-breadth outside of his movement. Wesley never received the abiding assurance of faith, apparently experienced by so many of those he loved and admired. He seemingly had doubts until the very end; but nonetheless, he persevered. Wesley never achieved the entire sanctification he preached to others. He wrote: I have told all the world I am not perfect…I have not attained the character I draw. Nonetheless, he held tenaciously to a doctrine that was the hallmark of Methodism.

Tuttle describes Wesley’s fear of death during his days at Charterhouse school and aboard the ship taking him to Georgia that left his feeling weak in faith. Tuttle writes:

 

Wesley could not bear witness to the kind of death he boasted among so many of those perfected in love. He wanted Methodists to die rejoicing, not just in peace. … He had strength only to proclaim: The best of all is, God is with us.

I found this a helpful way to transition from Wesley biography to theology.

Reading John and Charles Wesley, Preacher and Poet

I just finished John Capon’s 1988 book, John and Charles Wesley, The Preacher and the Poet. It was another of those inexpensive purchases from Amazon that has an interesting surprise. The front page inscription notes, “purchased at Wesley Chapel, London, June 1988.” This is a 158-page paperback, published by Hodder Christian Paperbacks.

The book jumps into the Wednesbury riot in its first paragraph:

As darkness fell in the Midland market-town of Walsall two rival gangs of men were at each other’s throats. The weapons ranged from pitchforks, heavy wooden clubs and bottles to bare hands and clenched fists. In the midst of this heaving, threatening throng, with victims being clubbed to the ground and beaten unmercifully, stood a man who by his dress and demeanour appeared unconnected with the riot – though he was in fact its cause.

Wesley is rescued from the riot by local judges turning away those holding Wesley and finally Wesley convincing the largest of his attackers to become his defender. Five days later, the defender George Clifton, joined a Methodist Society and remained an active lifelong follower of Wesley.

Capon goes on to share the biography of the Wesley childhood in Epworth, college years in Oxford, missionary travel to Georgia, personal awakening upon their return and tireless work  in the years that followed.

What Methodism came to believe owed a great deal to the formative theological and devotional influences in Wesley’s life. Wesley believed in loyalty to the church; the inner experience of God fed by prayer and the Scriptures; an independent mind and outlook; commitment to a disciplined, caring lifestyle; personal justifying faith in the Christ of the cross; the necessity of fellowship and evangelism. Wesley summed it up himself in two words: Scriptural holiness.

Wesley’s dictum (was) never to strike one stroke in any place where I cannot follow the blow. The instrument of follow up was the society. There was nothing particularly new in the idea of small groups of people coming together for religious purposes.The unique ingredient that made them effective was the class system.

Classes met weekly under approved leaders to exercise vigilance over the members of the class. He prepared tickets which he gave  to each of those of whose seriousness and good conversation I found no reason to doubt. Quarterly visits were made by Wesley or his preachers to check on the spiritual status and progress of those who held tickets.

Capon closes his story of the Wesley brothers relating John’s death in his house next door to Wesley Chapel on City Road in London.

The brand plucked from the burning at Epworth 82 years  before, which had set all England alight by the heat of its flame, was finally extinguished.

John and Charles Wesley

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Bristol’s role in developing Methodist class leaders

Events in Bristol sparked an important change in the growing Methodist movement in the 1740s. At the time, societies led by Oxford Methodists and others were aligning their loyalties: some with the Wesleys, and others with the Moravians or George Whitefield’s Presbyterian teachings. John had just taken on the debt for the New Room in Bristol and the Foundery in London. In his book Wesley and the People Called Methodists, Richard Heitzenrater explains lay leadership developed.

In February 1742, John Wesley met with several leading persons from the society in Bristol to consider ways of paying the debt on the New Room. Captain Foy proposed that everyone in the society contribute a penny a week, a common method of subscription used in the religious societies and already implemented in the Foundery society to assist the poor. But someone protested that many of the members of the society were very poor and could not afford to give that much. Foy’s innovative solution was simple: divide the society into groups of twelve, each with a leader who would be responsible for turning in twelve pence a week, making up themselves whatever they could not collect. He also volunteered to take as his group the eleven poorest of the lot. His offer was accepted; others fell in line; it was done.

The importance of the groups soon superseded their original design. As the leaders began their weekly rounds, contacting every member of the society, they soon discovered problems: domestic disputes, drunkenness, and other sorts of behavior not indicative of the pursuit of holiness. Wesley saw the pastoral opportunity presented by the practical structure of the class: the leaders of the classes became the spiritual overseers of their group. This method helped Wesley overcome the difficulty of coming to know each person in the rapidly increasing societies and extended the personal touch of his pastoral oversight.

Early Methodism in Bristol – Writing of Rev. John Smith Simon. More on this article on p 17 of the acrobat file, or page 64 of the text.

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Green on Wesley and Oxford

Oxford shaped John Wesley. In his book The Young Mr. Wesley, V.H.H. Green wrote about Wesley’s love for Oxford:

Occasionally in his later years he had looked back to the comparative tranquility and youthful enthusiasm of his Oxford days, “Let me be again an Oxford Methodist,” he wrote to his brother Charles in 1772. “I am often in doubt whether it would not be best for me to resume all my Oxford rules, great and small. I did then walk closely with God and redeem the time time. But what have I been doing these 30 years?”

There were clearly times in after life when he wished he was still a fellow of Lincoln. He could not return to Oxford without a feeling of nostalgia. “I love the very sight of Oxford,” he said in his Plain Account of Kingswood School, “I love the manner of life; I love and esteem many of its institutions.”

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Green on Wesley and the Holy Club, Oxford

In 1726, Charles Wesley entered Christ Church as a student. After enjoying his start into college life, Charles determined to work harder and become more dedicated to the ideals he had learned at Epworth. He began meeting with a few young men weekly for readings in the Bible and discussion. In his book Young Mr. Wesley, V.H.H. Green notes that John Wesley returned from Epworth to work as a fellow at Lincoln College and joined the group.

In John Wesley’s oft-quoted words:

In November 1729, four young gentlemen of Oxford, Mr. John Wesley, Fellow of Lincoln College; Mr. Charles Wesley, student of Christ Church; Mr. Morgan, Commissioner of Christ Church; and Mr. Kirkham of Merton College began to spend some evenings in a week together, in reading chiefly the Greek Testament.

John’s devotional life had already a pattern which fitted in well with the society. He regularly attended the Communion service at Christ Church on Sunday morning at quarter past seven, usually breakfasting with Charles afterwards. On weekdays, he rose at an increasingly early hour, at any time between five and six, engaged in private prayer, read some devotional work and the Green Testament; throughout the day he sought to remind himself of his vocation.

The Holy Club widened its activities, visiting the sick and the Oxford prisoners at the Castle and the Bocardo. At first, Wesley confined his visits to the Castle to Saturday afternoons, but he soon went more frequently.

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Green on Wesley at Lincoln College, Oxford

After his graduation from Christ Church, John Wesley became a fellow of Lincoln College. In his book, The Young Mr. Wesley, V.H.H. Green writes:

John Wesley was admitted to his fellowship on March 27, 1726. His fellowship provided financial security with an annual salary of 60 pounds.

He drew up a scheme of studies….He would now concentrate as far as possible on what seemed serious and important to him. Mondays and Tuesdays were to be for the study of Roman and Greek history and literature; Wednesdays for logics and ethics; Thursdays for studies in Hebrew and Arabic; Fridays for metaphysics and Natural Philosophy; Saturdays for the composition of poetry and oratory; Sundays for Divinity. He would not keep these resolutions but the anxiety to use his time to the best advantage was one of the factors which contributed to his decision that the secret of the right use of time was early rising in the morning.

He was able to request leave from Lincoln College and returned to Epworth where he stayed from 1727 to 1729 while making short trips to Oxford.

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Green on Wesley at Christ Church, Oxford

John Wesley spent his university days in Oxford attending Christ Church. The school dates back to the 1500s with action by Henry VIII establishing the college and Anglican cathedral. The dean is always a clergyman. Wesley attended Christ Church from 1720 to 1726. In his book The Young Mr. Wesley, V.H.H. Green writes:

John Wesley came up to Oxford, an earnest, high-minded, young man, to one of the most diversified societies in existence, for Christ Church, then under the direction of Dean Boulter, was not merely the largest but the most distinguished college in the university.

There is no information available about Wesley’s studies as an undergraduate but he doubtless performed conscientiously the barren exercises necessary for his degree.

After Wesley had graduated as a bachelor of arts in 1724, he remained in Oxford, presumably using his rooms in Christ Church, to fulfill the exercises necessary for the master’s degree.

He was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Potter of Oxford on Sunday, September 19, 1725.

He was elected to a fellowship at Lincoln College in March 1726.

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John Wesley, George Smiley and the University of North Carolina

The link to John Wesley, George Smiley and the University of North Carolina is the Rev. Vivian Hubert Howard Green. I am currently reading Green’s book Young Mr. Wesley, focused on Wesley’s years at Oxford and published in 1961. Wesley graduated from Christ Church at Oxford in 1724. He later became a fellow a Lincoln College. Green was a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, for over 30 years and its Rector from 1983 to 1987. He wrote a full biography of Wesley in 1963.

One of Green’s students at Lincoln was John Le Carre, known for his spy novels. His trilogy that includes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tells the story of George Smiley. While Green never served in the British Secret Service, Le Carre acknowledged that he used Green’s temperment and outlook in creating the character of Smiley.

In the early 1980s, Green served a short period as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina.

Read more about Green in this 2005 obit.

 

 

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New book on Wesley in Georgia

UMNS talks with author Geordan Hammond about his new book, John Wesley in America.

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