Stephen Poxon has produced a new book, 'Through the Year with John Wesley', which presents some of the theological and reflective writings of the 'father of Methodism'. Each daily reading is an extract from Wesley's prolific output as an intelligent, thoughtful and passionate writer. Here, the author discusses the subject of his work.
So much has already been written about John Wesley that a few more words might be deemed superfluous. Possibly so, until we remember that we are dealing with a prophet, a great man of God, and an astonishing character whose life was filled with the Holy Spirit.
In that light, Wesley's truly remarkable life and personality can easily withstand further scrutiny, insofar as the works of God at certain stages of human history retain a timeless power and fascination. The 'father of Methodism' (though he remained an ordained Anglican minister until his final breath) was a stubborn, forthright, complex individual, and very much a human being with human frailties and flaws.
He could be maddeningly dogmatic yet the grace of God shone through even his most tenacious, awkward moments, possibly because the Lord knew that, in Wesley, he had an imperfect but thoroughly reliable and devoted servant who was willing to submit himself to decades of hardship, deprivation and ostracization in his tireless pursuit of converts for the Christ he loved.
Allied to his utterly unyielding attitude of 'holy belligerence' was John Wesley's phenomenal academic intelligence and an attitude to scholarly study that saw him rising at 4am each day (even into old age) in order to craft and shape his sermons through an abiding love of the Bible and its original languages. For all that, though, the messages he preached (at every possible opportunity) were deliberately designed to reach 'the whosoever', and it is therefore no coincidence at all to learn that General William Booth, that great friend of the marginalised, regarded him as something of a mentor and even a hero.
Wesley the man relied upon a handful of close friends for his encouragement (if not, always, advice), and they in turn derived an enormous amount of blessing from his prayerful counsel and example, not least his almost unique ability to remain unoffended in the face of criticism and what were at times blistering personal attacks. Almost certainly, were John Wesley alive today, we would accuse him of spiritual myopia bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which might go some way towards explaining his fearless driving imperative to shake complacent Anglicanism to its foundations wherever he found it lacking.
He was a man who thrived on strict routine, and sometimes found it difficult to understand that not everyone was as dedicated (to prayer, study and evangelism) as he was. Long-winded at times, yet only in order to ensure he had covered every angle of a Bible passage (so as not to deprive his listeners of important gospel truths), Wesley the theologian/preacher felt it his God-given Christian duty to be meticulous (methodical) in preparation.
Certain aspects of his personal life (his strange marriage, in particular) beggar belief, even when viewed through a contemporary lens, yet serve to underline the fact that God has indeed entrusted the ongoing spread of Christian witness to 'earthen vessels'. That should encourage the rest of us!
What is also encouraging for us lesser mortals is the fact that John Wesley took quite a few years to discern and establish his vocational destiny as a preacher and writer (though it would be a mistake to regard him as a pastor). He struggled to find his calling, but persevered in fervent prayer and a singular determination to wrestle with God, and with this issue, until he was satisfied.
Wesley's sermons, only a tiny fraction of which are reflected in my book, speak of a man with a tidy, organised mind, a burning, passionate heart, a deeply ingrained work ethic, and an indefatigable spirit. He was not unaware of his shortcomings and eccentricities (taking exceptional pride in his hair, for example), but leant wholly on the grace of God for forgiveness and perpetual improvement in what was his lifelong spiritual quest.
Rev John Wesley: preacher, pioneer and practitioner!
'Through the Year with John Wesley' is published by Monarch Books, priced £12.99.