John Wesley: A Theological Journey

John Wesley: A Theological Journey

by Kenneth J. Collins


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John Wesley: A Theological Journey has been nominated for a Wesleyan Theological Society Book Award. Abingdon Press would like to congratulate Kenneth Collins on this honor.

John Wesley remains a seminal figure, not only for "the people called Methodist, " but also within the larger Protestant tradition. Understanding his theology is a requirement for understanding the development of the Western Christian tradition in the modern period. In recent years much work has been done to grasp the intricacies of Wesley's theology. However, most of this work has been thematic in organization, studying Wesley's thought according to a topical or systematic outline. The weakness of this approach, argues Kenneth J. Collins, is that it fails to demonstrate the evolution and changes of Wesley's theology. What is called for is a historical presentation—one that examines the development of Wesley's theology across the span of his long and eventful theological career. Collins thus provides a chronological presentation of the development of Wesley's theology. Drawing on an extensive examination of the primary sources, and demonstrating an intimate knowledge of the different contexts and social locations in which Wesley's theology took place, John Wesley: A Theological Journey will be necessary reading for anyone wishing to understand the broad scope of the Methodist leader's theological development and contribution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780687027880
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 09/03/2010
Pages: 356
Sales rank: 960,035
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Kenneth J. Collins is Professor of Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore Kentucky, and an elder in the Kentucky Conference of The United Methodist Church. He also teaches at the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia, and is a member of the Wesleyan Theological Society, Wesley Historical Society, and Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. He is the author of A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley's Theology, co-editor of Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition, and John Wesley: A Theological Journey.

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John Wesley

A Theological Journey

By Kenneth J. Collins

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2003 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-5794-5


The Puritan and Anglican Heritage

During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), an energetic and deeply principled movement emerged in the English church that took exception to both the Act of Uniformity and the use of the Book of Common Prayer, the very staples of the Elizabethan settlement. In time, Thomas Cartwright and others became popularly known as Puritans (though Cartwright himself had rejected the designation) because they sought to purify the Church of England from its Roman Catholic vestiges in terms of both doctrine and polity. In particular, many of the Puritans sought not only to eliminate episcopacy, but also to cleanse the English church from numerous ceremonies, vestments, and customs that harkened back to the Middle Ages and that, in their judgment, helped render the gospel opaque.

Although a considerable number of Puritans had hopes of working within the Anglican Church to effectuate suitable reforms, as the reign of Elizabeth progressed many were becoming increasingly doubtful of these efforts, especially when the queen crushed the Presbyterian movement in 1593. Serious tensions within both church and society continued well into the seventeenth century and were exacerbated by William Laud, an Anglican prelate, who attempted to undo many of the Puritans' earlier labors. Among other things, Laud tried to reintroduce pre-Reformation liturgical practices such as stained glass windows, crucifixes, and altar rails; he moved the Communion table from the nave to the east end of the choir; and he even admitted, to the great dismay of the Puritans, who had been deeply influenced by Reformed theology, that the Church of Rome itself was a true church because it received the Scriptures as a rule of faith and both sacraments.

The fortunes of the Puritans improved in time with the calling of the Long Parliament in 1640, the imprisonment of Archbishop Laud the following year (Charles I had elevated him to Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633), and the surprising military successes of Oliver Cromwell, leader of the New Model Army and Puritan champion. However, the Puritan interregnum from 1640 to 1660, during which Cromwell emerged as Lord Protector with considerable power and the Puritans enjoyed greater freedom to exercise their will, this period, which should have been one of marked improvement, was actually deeply resented by many of the common folk simply because they chafed under the Puritan ethos and ethic. Add to this the horror of the Rump Parliament's execution of Charles I in 1649, and many of the English were more than ready for the restoration of the monarchy with the ascension of Charles II to the throne in 1661.

At first, with the coronation of Charles Stuart, the possibility of something other than a mere restoration of the Anglican Church appeared to be in the offing; and the Savoy Conference in 1661 had even considered uniting the Presbyterians with the Church of England. The Conference, however, broke up with little effect, and Parliament proceeded to impose a number of debilitating restrictions on those dissenters who would not conform to the Anglican Church. To illustrate, the Corporation Act, passed in 1661, restricted membership of corporations to members of the Church of England; the Act of Uniformity of 1662 imposed a revised Book of Common Prayer and required "unfeigned assent and consent" by its ministers to its contents; the Conventicle Act of 1664 forbade meetings for worship (other than in the Anglican form) in private houses or in the open; the Five Mile Act, passed the following year, ordered dissenting ministers not to come within five miles of a corporate town or "to preach to any assembly without having sworn an oath against rebellion"; and the Test Act of 1673 excluded all Roman Catholics from public office.

During the subsequent reign of James II, the fear of Roman Catholicism was so great that William of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart, the daughter of James II, were invited to the English throne in 1688 in what has been called the Glorious Revolution. Moderate and sensible in many respects, King William promulgated the Toleration Act the following year, which afforded dissenters freedom of worship provided that they continued to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. With this measure of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in place, dissent as a distinct movement would continue in English religious life well into the next century, such that by the time of 1715, when John Wesley was but a boy, its numbers were in the range of a quarter of a million out of a total population of more than five million.

The Maternal Legacy

The theological setting in which John Wesley thrived as a child was marked, of course, by Anglicanism; but it was also shaped, to some extent, by a heritage of dissent mediated to him through the lineage of both his mother and father. Some of Susanna Wesley's relatives, for example, were gifted and energetic leaders who had departed from the Church of England in the name of piety and reform. Indeed, Susanna's grandfather on her mother's side had been an earnest and serious Puritan from his youth. Growing up in Pembrokeshire, the young John White entered Jesus College, Oxford, in 1607 or so and after completing his studies was admitted to the bar. By 1640, he became a member of Parliament, a Puritan stronghold by this time, and set his course in opposition to the established church. In recognition of his strong Puritan sentiments and his gifts for leadership, John White was appointed the chairman of the Committee for Religion and eventually became a member of the historic Westminster Assembly of Divines.

But Susanna's Puritan relations were even closer. Dr. Samuel Annesley, her father, had graduated from Queens College, Oxford, where he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1639 and 1644, respectively; and he was subsequently honored with the Doctor of Laws degree in 1648. Devout and serious in many respects and pursuing a long and deeply held call to ministry, Samuel Annesley was ordained by presbyters in 1644 and began his ministerial career on board a man-of-war as its chaplain. Sensing a call to a more orderly and stable life, the young cleric soon settled down in the parish of Cliffe in Kent. By 1652, Samuel Annesley was ministering in London and was well known for the nonconformist convictions of his gifted preaching as well as for the meetinghouse that he had established in Little St. Helen's. Six years later, in 1658, the prominent rector became the Vicar of St. Giles, Cripplegate, a position from which he was ejected in 1662 for his failure to conform to the Anglican Church. Dr. Annesley remained in London, steadfast in his convictions, where he served as the "patriarch of Dissent" until his death on December 31,1696. Interestingly enough, John Wesley thought so well of many of his grandfather's theological convictions that he reproduced a sermon from this seventeenth-century leader in his own A Christian Library, a collection of some of the best pieces on practical divinity. The words of Dr. Annesley that follow, in their emphasis on holiness, faith working by love, as well as the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, could have just as easily flowed from the pen of John Wesley. Dr. Annesley writes:

Remember these two words, though you forget all the rest of the Sermon, viz., "CHRIST and Holiness, Holiness and CHRIST": interweave these all manner of ways, in your whole conversation....

It is serious Christianity that I press, as the only way to better every condition: it is Christianity, downright Christianity, that alone can do it: it is not morality without faith; that is but refined Heathenism: it is not faith without morality; that is but downright hypocrisy: it must be a divine faith, wrought by the HOLY GHOST, where GOD and man concur in the operation; such a faith as works by love, both to GOD and man; a holy faith, full of good works.

The twenty-fifth and last child of Dr. Annesley, and the one to whom he left his papers before he died, was Susanna, who was born in London on January 20,1669. Growing up in a godly setting where religious matters were often discussed, Susanna developed some spiritual disciplines that would serve her well throughout life. The mother of Methodism became, among other things, a good steward of time and set apart regular periods for meditation and self-examination, so typical of her Puritan heritage. In addition, as a young child, Susanna most likely kept a spiritual journal in which she would chronicle the state of her soul before a holy and forgiving God, the pages of the journal becoming her confessional. In fact, so important were the elements of personal piety to the youngest Annesley, that she later confessed to her son Samuel Wesley Jr. that "when I was in my father's house ... I used to allow myself as much time for recreation as I spent in private devotion."

Beyond these elements of practical divinity, it is clear that Susanna, both as a child and later as an adult, kept a strict Puritan Sabbath, in which all unnecessary labors were put aside and the day was observed in all manner of seriousness and in due devotion to the Most High, a practice that she later passed along to her children and especially to her son John. Indeed, when Wesley articulated the characteristics of "notorious sinners" in his treatise The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained in 1746, it was, in a real sense, the voice of his own mother that resounded in the cautionary words: "The remainder were gross, open sinners, common swearers, drunkards, sabbath-breakers, whoremongers, plunderers, robbers, implacable, unmerciful, wolves and bears in the shape of men. Do you desire instances of more 'notorious sinners' than these?"

Though Susanna would retain many elements of her Puritan heritage, she nevertheless decided at a tender age—not quite thirteen—to become a part of the religious establishment, a member of the Church of England. Considering the dispute between the dissenters and the Anglicans as best as she was able, the young child evidently concluded with good and sufficient reasons the nature of her future course. Later as an adult, Susanna took the trouble to draw up a detailed account of this earlier transition, but her narrative was unfortunately consumed in the flames of the great Wesley house fire that erupted in February 1709.

A person of deep character and strong willed in many respects, Susanna had offended the sensibilities of her husband, Samuel, when she had not offered the proper "Amen" to his prayer for King William, the chief protagonist of the Glorious Revolution. As noted earlier, William of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart, had displaced the "Catholic" James II from the English throne in 1688. Such a turn of events was distasteful, to say the least, for those English people, like Susanna, who had been schooled on the notion of the divine right of kings. Indeed, with politics and religion so intimately connected since the time of Henry VIII and the English Reformation, it is little wonder that, on the one hand, Susanna had such reservations about King William and, on the other hand, her husband could find them troubling—so much so that he took a rash vow to this effect: "Sukey, if that be the case, we must part, for if we have two Kings, we must have two beds." With the kind of stubbornness that emerges only from a deeply principled person, Samuel abandoned his wife and children and headed for London. Just how long Samuel actually forsook his family is a point well disputed, but what is clear is that the neglectful husband and father eventually returned to the Epworth parsonage without having received the kind of assurances from Susanna that he had demanded in his vow. Within a year after Samuel's return, John Wesley was born on June 17,1703.

The English Puritans, as Newton aptly notes, were characterized by "their intense pastoral care, their concern for family religion, and their efforts to bring every member of a household or congregation to a personal appropriation of God's grace"—elements that just as accurately describe Susanna's own care for her burgeoning brood. Like her Puritan ancestors, Susanna not only recommended the works of Richard Baxter as conducive to spiritual growth and maturation, but also stressed, along with her husband, Samuel, daily reading and meditation on the Bible as a suitable means of grace. Every morning at the Epworth rectory, for example, the Wesley family read psalms as well as chapters from the Old and New Testaments, the household being filled with the Word, the very sounds of salvation.

Something of a disciplinarian, Susanna cared for her children according to rule and method. For instance, all of the Wesley children, except Kezzy, were taught to read when they were five years old; and a single day was allotted to the task of learning the alphabet, a task that John and others accomplished quiet easily though Mary and Anne took a day and a half. Moreover, on each day of the week, Susanna had a private talk with one of her children according to a fixed pattern: on Monday with Mollie, on Tuesday with Hettie, on Wednesday with Nancy, on Thursday with John, on Friday with Patty, on Saturday with Charles, and on Sunday with Emilia and Sukey. Six hours a day were spent at school, at which instruction was serious and thorough and loud talking and boisterous play were strictly forbidden—rules that would in a similar fashion find their way into John Wesley's own educational practices at Kings wood.

Upon reflection in his later years, John Wesley was so impressed with his mother's educational practices and discipline that he asked her to collect the principal rules that she had observed in their family. In a letter to her son on July 24,1732, Susanna details her method: When the children turned a year old, and some even before this, they were taught to "fear the rod, and to cry softly; by which means they escaped abundance of correction they might otherwise have had." Even before her children could speak, Susanna adds, she stressed the importance of the Lord's Day, that it must be distinguished from all other days—a precept that was, no doubt, a reminder of her own earlier origins. Beyond this, as soon as the children had "grown pretty strong," they were limited to three meals a day so that drinking and eating between meals was never allowed. Indeed, the Wesley children were always put into a "regular method of living," which included such matters as dressing, undressing, changing linen, and so on. Elsewhere in this same letter, and in a summary fashion, Susanna underscores the element that is absolutely necessary for the inculcation of piety and for the proper foundation of a religious education:

In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will.... I insist upon conquering the wills of children betimes, because this is the only foundation for a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason of its parent, till its own understanding comes to maturity.

In addition, Susanna listed the various "bylaws" that were part of the Epworth household, which include the following:

1. Whoever was charged with a fault, of which they were guilty, if they would ingenuously confess it, and promise to amend, should not be beaten. This rule prevented a great deal of lying....

2. That no sinful action, as lying, pilfering, playing at church, or on the Lord's day, disobedience, quarreling, etc., should ever pass unpunished.

3. That no child should ever be chid or beat twice for the same fault....

4. That every single act of obedience ... should be always commended, and frequently rewarded, according to the merits of the cause.

5. That if ever any child performed an act of obedience, or did anything with an intention to please, though the performance was not well, yet the obedience and intention should be kindly accepted, and the child with sweetness directed how to do better for the future.

6. That [property] be inviolably preserved, and none suffered to invade the property of another in the smallest matter, though it were but of the value of a farthing, or a pin....

7. That promises be strictly observed; and a gift once bestowed, and so the right passed away from the donor, be not resumed....

8. That no girl be taught to work till she can read very well; and then that she be kept to her work with the same application, and for the same time, that she was held to in reading. This rule also is much to be observed; for the putting children to learn sewing before they can read perfectly is the very reason why so few women can read fit to be heard, and never to be well understood.


Excerpted from John Wesley by Kenneth J. Collins. Copyright © 2003 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1.The Puritan and Anglican Heritage11
The Maternal Legacy13
The Paternal Legacy21
John Wesley's Early Life25
2.The End of Religion29
A Kempis and Taylor31
Wesley's Early Understanding of Faith36
Developments at Oxford38
William Law40
The First Rise of Methodism: Oxford42
The Circumcision of the Heart49
The Epworth Living51
The Voyage to Georgia56
The Fear of Death as a Test of Christian Experience58
The Second Rise of Methodism: The Georgia Mission62
The Salzburgers63
Wesley's Pastoral Style at Savannah and Frederica67
The Sophia Hopkey Relationship70
The Return Home74
Peter Bohler80
William Law85
Wesley's Western Theological Orientation91
Salvation by Faith93
Back to England99
Field Preaching102
5.The Form and Power of Methodism105
Lay Preaching108
The Third Rise of Methodism: Fetter Lane110
George Whitefield114
The Character and Principles of a Methodist117
Susanna's Death119
The Methodist Infrastructure120
Anglican Opposition123
Scriptural Christianity126
6.Theological Nuances and Ongoing Standards129
The Faith of a Servant133
The Standards of Redemption135
Inward Religion141
Religious Dispositions145
The Issue of Determinism147
The Church Question151
7.Strengthening the Foundations154
Bishop Lavington and the Nature of Enthusiasm155
The Moral Law157
A Caution Against Bigotry and the Catholic Spirit161
Ecclesiastical Developments163
Wesley's Marriage166
Wesley's Evangelical Friends172
A Christian Library and Notes upon the New Testament173
Assurance Revisited176
8.The Anglican Church and Holiness178
Bishop Warburton180
James Hervey181
Original Sin183
The New Birth: Sanctification Begun186
Challenges Along the Way189
Perfect Love: Sanctification Perfected193
The Myth of John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy195
The Importance of the Anglican and Pietist Traditions199
The Witnesses to Perfect Love201
The Bell and Maxfield Fiasco203
9.A Contentious Decade205
Wesley and British Politics206
Wesley and American Politics: Slavery209
The American Revolution210
Domestic Affairs214
The Calvinist Controversy216
The Theology of the Minutes221
The Upshot of It All227
10.A Church Established230
The American Ordinations232
Preparing for a British Church234
The Danger of Riches238
Loss and Decline241
Real Christianity243
Wesley's Protestant Spiritual Orientation247
Conclusion: "The Best of All"254
The Wedding Garment254
Inward Religion Revisited256
The Ongoing Danger of Riches258
The Letters to Wilberforce and Sharp260
Wesley's Health261
The Enduring Theological Themes261
Wesley's Last Days267
Selected Bibliography328

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