“That miserable bigotry”

by Kim on June 19, 2010

Geez, and I thought this was a Methodist blog! So it takes a minister in the Reformed tradition to wish a belated “Happy Birthday!” to John Benjamin Wesley - “Jacky” his parents called him - who was born on June 17th, 1703. I gave you guys two days to make good this disgraceful discourtesy of forgetfulness and omission to the founder of your Church. You should be ashamed of yourselves!

Here, in homage to your leader, is a piece of vintage Wesley for you so-called Methodists, from “A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists”:

“The thing which I was greatly afraid of … and which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing, was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal, a being straitened in our own bowels; that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among ourselves. I thought it might be a help against this frequently to read, to all who were willing to hear, the accounts I received … of the work which God is carrying on in the earth, … not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations. For this I allotted one evening in every month. It is generally a time of … breaking down the partition-walls which either the craft of the devil or the folly of men has built up; and of encouraging every child of God to say, … ‘Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”

And from Sermon 130, “On Living without God”:

“I believe the merciful God regards the … lives of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused.”

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 06.19.10 at 9:43 pm

I hang my head in shame…


john 06.20.10 at 12:29 am

I partied overtime on Aldersgate Day!
Stay blessed…john


Jonathan Marlowe 06.21.10 at 9:14 pm

Let me correct your ecclesiology, Kim. John Wesley was not the founder of our church. We celebrate the birthday of the founder of our church on Dec. 25. John Wesley merely started a revival movement within the Church of England because the C of E was so spiritually dead at the time, an action for which Rowan Williams has expressed great appreciation.

And for a more representative selection from Wesley’s corpus, I would suggest this excerpt from his sermon “Catholic Spirit:”

For, from hence we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.


Kim 06.22.10 at 12:24 pm

Your point about Wesley, it’s a bit picayune, don’t you think, Jonathan? (Of course there are plenty of Lutherans and Calvinists who will say the same precious thing.) And while he died in England as an Anglican, Jacky was authoritarian and unilateralist enough, to his brother Chuck’s utter chagrin and dismay, to ordain Thomas Coke (although he was already a priest) as a superintendent/bishop for the Methodist Episcopal Church in America - and he rejoiced in the new church’s liberation. But you will know all that.

And thanks for the quote. But one thing: It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. Pray tell, what is the point of “hear[ing] and weigh[ing]” if “wavering” - which I presume includes changing your mind - is ruled out in principle? That does not sound to me like a “catholic” spirit, that sounds to me like an intellectually sectarian spirit. But what do I know, being Reformed, i.e. of the spirit of Antichrist?


Jonathan Marlowe 06.23.10 at 2:14 am

For Wesley, changing one’s mind is not ruled out in principle, as anyone familiar with the development of his thought over his lifetime would know. But wavering is something different - wavering represents confusion over a long period of time. One can change one’s mind without engaging in a protracted period of wavering. Wavering is “This unsettledness of thought, this being ‘driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,’”

And I’m not so sure I would describe Wesley’s action as you did: “he rejoiced in the new church’s liberation.” I think Rowan Williams described it more accurately when he said Wesley did this reluctantly, because of the missionary sluggishness of the C of E.

And I would hope that Methodists, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and even the Reformed would celebrate their founder’s birthday on Dec. 25. That is another way of saying that our true church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church - and that all denominational loyalties are at best provisional.


Kim 06.23.10 at 4:01 am

Agreed, Jonathan. Now that’s a catholic spirit!

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