|A Brief Review of
John and Charles Wesley:
Reviewed by Douglas Connelly
John and Charles Wesley left a spiritual legacy that has touched every facet of Christianity. Even those traditions that are non-Wesleyan have been affected by the fervor and warmth of the Wesleyan revivals in the eighteenth century and in the revivalists who followed in the Wesley’s footsteps.
Paul Wesley Chilcote, a professor of theology and Wesleyan studies at Ashland Theological Seminary, has given the interested reader a moving and helpful introduction to the sermons, hymns, and theological writings of these two brothers. He begins with a brief but thorough sketch of the lives and influence of the Wesleys. They grew up in an Anglican pastor’s home and never really cut their ties to the Anglican Church. It was only after their deaths that what became known as Methodism moved away (or was pushed away) from the Church of England.
The selections from their writings include the famous entries in their personal journals describing their dramatic conversions and the joy of their faith in Christ. John’s account of his heart being “strangely warmed” is one of the best-known passages in church history. The selected writing appears on the right side of the opened book and Chilcote’s comments and annotations appear on the left side. (Editor’s note: one wonders how well this format would work on the Kindle?) This arrangement bothered me a little at the beginning, but I soon fell into the rhythm of reading the selected writing first and then reading the compiler’s comments. Sometimes his comments prompted me to go back to the selection and read it again with deeper understanding and insight. Overall, the comments were well written and helpful.
Chilcote tries to balance the selections from John and the selections from Charles. I felt like too much room was given to Charles’s hymns. His hymns are wonderful expression of praise and doctrine, but John was by far the more prolific preacher and writer and I thought the reader should have heard more from John than from Charles. Charles wrote hundreds of hymns, but the hymns are not as interesting (at least to me) as the theological and sermonic material that John produced. Chilcote is the president of the international Charles Wesley Society and that may explain his inclusion of so many of Charles’s poems.
The selections are drawn from several categories of spiritual thought – holiness, the means of grace, conversion, repentance, faith, etc. Each reading is just one page long (or less) plus the comments on the facing page. The book could be read as a daily devotional or as a “plunge in where you desire” experience. I tended to read a section (6-8 selections) at a time. I came away challenged and instructed and, most of all, wanting to read more. I guess that is the goal of any anthology – to give the reader just enough to make him or her thirsty for more. Chilcote gives the reader some further resources for a deeper exploration of the legacy of the Wesley brothers. I’ve already picked out a couple books to hunt down and read.
Douglas Connelly is the pastor of Parkside Community Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan.