When Wesley’s words aren’t

by Richard on September 19, 2011

Our friends at UM Portal raise the routine (mis-)quoting of Wesley by Methodists

It made for a great Tweet:
“Set yourself on fire with passion & people will come for miles to watch you burn—John Wesley.”

After megachurch pastor Craig Groeschel posted that saying on Twitter, more than 100 people passed it along by “re-tweeting.”
The only glitch: As far as historians can tell, John Wesley never uttered those words.

“I have no idea where that one came from,” said the Rev. Richard Heitzenrater, professor emeritus of church history and Wesley studies at Duke Divinity School and a leading authority on John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

More than 200 years after his death, the words of John Wesley (1703-1791) still carry a lot of weight among United Methodists and others in the Wesleyan tradition. Wesley’s prolific writings are rife with maxims that are wise, practical and quotable, and church members still cite them on topics ranging from Christian unity (“If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand”) to the global church (“I look on all the world as my parish.”)

But a few of the most popular Wesley quotations, it turns out, weren’t by John Wesley.

I’m a bit perplexed that this is being presented as something surprising. Isn’t it well-known, for example, that Wesley had nothing to do with the ‘Wesleyan quadrilateral’?

The irony for me is that the article finishes with eleven “Things Wesley DID say”. The first of them (”The best of it all is, God is with us”) are reputed to have been Wesley’s last words, but I’m pretty sure there’s been dispute about whether Wesley actually uttered them.

But don’t quote me on that. ;)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1

Will Grady 09.19.11 at 3:36 pm

I mentioned the ‘best of all’ quote on my blog once. John Lenton, the Convenor of the Methodist Church of Great Britain Archives and History Committee, found it and commented on whether or not Wesley said it. In summary, Lenton said it was likely among the last words but may not been the words uttered by his dying breath. If you want to read what Lenton wrote in full, . Not exactly the picture we like to imagine, but at least it came from Wesley’s lips!

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