September | Meet John Wesley In His Journal

by Methodist Survey
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Overview of John Wesley's Journals

David Bell writes

In the second decade of the 21st century (Common Era) we have information overload.

It seems as if every other person either blogs, uploads family photos to Facebook, twitters and tweets, pinterests, and so on.

Academics  publish more and more papers which turn into volumes of journals. Most of it is about increasingly vacuous topics.

A small proportion of what is available, however, is extraordinarily interesting and is of bespoke quality.

That goes for both the popular press and the academy.

John Wesley’s Journals are altogether different: in analytical prowess, intellectual sweep, accuracy, practicality, in shedding light on character.

In one way they are the straightforward record of John’s life, a personal history. In an altogether different way they convey the most accurate insights into the social history of Methodism, its ordinary ups and downs, its influence on “plain” people.

More generally, there is no other history of the English revival like it.

Yet there is also a third reading: the Journals are truly a storehouse of the mores and manners of English life and customs during the greater part of the 18th century.

And it has to be noted that there is a fourth significant way into the Journals. Read in conjunction with the Surveys they give an account of events, ideas, and literature that came to shape John Wesley’s theology.

In all these aspects, Wesley displays a sharp eye for detail and intelligent apprehension of larger purposes.

For example, when he was 82 years old, he visited Land’s End for a third time. He wrote, “I cannot think but the sea has gained some hundred yards since I was here forty years ago.” This because he insisted on clambering down among the rocks as he had done when a young man.

From details in natural history, to a remarkable reading list of books read on horseback, to observations on England’s palaces and stately homes, to the immense working knowledge of the chapels and societies he created, to a life-long interest in psychic events, to records of meetings with thousands of people, Wesley displayed a remarkable interest.

He never tired of gathering facts and trends and opinions, of collecting stories and insights, of disciplined study alongside of an intense devotional and prayer life, all of which are faithfully recorded in his Journals.

Just two years before his death he visited again the Minster at Lincoln, not many miles from his birthplace at Epworth. 1st July 1790 he records “I went to Lincoln. After dinner we took a walk in and around the Minster; which I really think is more elegant than that at York, in various parts of the structure, as well as in its admirable situation. The new house was thoroughly filled in the evening, and with hearers uncommonly serious.”

Church and chapel, mighty cathedral and humble meeting house, these were the irrefutable permutations and combinations now embedded in John Wesley’s psyche.

Reading his Journals repays the ordinary ten-fold. Reading through the eyes of a Methodist preacher today, has incalculable value.