Archive: On Finding Roots

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

Several years ago I was browsing in a used book store. Back in some dimly-lit shelves marked “religion” I chanced upon two musty, leatherbound books published in 1853. In them were 150 sermons by John Wesley! I had stumbled onto a collection of all Mister Methodist’s surviving sermons—a sort of theological King Tut’s tomb, rich with treasurers for the mind and soul.

Happily I paid the bookseller $8.00 (who says there are no more bargains?) and have been enjoying them ever since. I began reading sermon #1 and have slowly worked my way down to #107, finished early this morning.

Often I have encountered God on the yellowing pages of Wesley’s “Sermons on Several Occasions.” It is as though 200 years had been magically erased and God was speaking to me across the gulf of two centuries.

To use an “in” expression, I have been getting in touch with my roots, my heritage as a United Methodist. In the process I have caught a glimpse of Methodism, pure and powerful, as God kindled it originally in the mind and soul of a great Christian.

Wesley’s language is sometimes archaic. And some of his 18th century quotations and illustrations are baffling to me, a man of the 20th century. But most of the time I find his insights about God and the human condition astonishingly fresh and, often, painfully relevant. Many times I have gently closed the old leather book, looked out the window, and said to myself, I wish all my Good News friends could read this!

I can no longer resist the urge to share a few of the Wesley gems I have discovered. Space permits only a tiny sample. I hope this will be an appetizer. I hope you will be tempted to shut off your television set and get better acquainted with a truly great man of God.

  • “As you cannot have too little confidence in yourself, so you cannot have too much in [God].” (# 98, On Redeeming the Time)
  • “Let not love visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant temper of your soul. See that your heart be filled at all times, and on all occasions, with real, undissembled benevolence; not to those only that love you, but to every soul of man. Let it pant in your heart; let it sparkle in your eyes; let it shine in all your actions.” (# 105, On Pleasing All Men)
  • “Every Christian is happy; and he who is not happy is not a Christian. … If religion and happiness are in fact the same, it is impossible that any man can possess the former without possessing the latter also.” (# 82, Spiritual Worship)
  • “It was impossible for Lazarus to come forth, till the Lord had given him life. And it is equally impossible for us to come out of our sins, yea, or to make the least motion towards it, till He who hath all power in heaven and earth, calls our dead souls into life.” (#90, Working Out Our Own Salvation)
  • Oh that God would give me the thing which I long for! That before I go hence and am seen no more, I may see a people wholly devoted to God, crucified to the world, and the world crucified to them! A people truly given up to God, in body, soul, and substance! How cheerfully should I then say, ‘Now lettest thy servant depart in peace!’” (# 92, Danger of Riches)
  • “They that bring the most holiness to heaven will find the most happiness there: so, on the other hand, it is not only true that the more wickedness a man brings to hell, the more misery he will find there; but that this misery will be infinitely varied, according to the various kinds of his wickedness.” (# 78, Of Hell)
  • “Whoever improves the grace he has already received, whoever increases in the love of God, will surely retain it. God will continue, yea, will give it more abundantly: whereas, whoever does not improve this talent, cannot possibly retain it. Notwithstanding all he can do, it will infallibly be taken away from him.” (# 95, An Israelite Indeed)
  • “Nothing is so small or insignificant in the sight of men, as not to be an object of the care and providence of God: before whom nothing is small that concerns the happiness of any of His creatures. There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation which is of deeper importance than this. And at the same time, there is scarcely any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood.” (# 72, on Divine Providence)

If you do not have the good fortune to find Wesley in a used book store as I did, you can meet him in these pages:

Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons. H. E. Schmul, Salem, OH. $6.96.

Forty-Four Sermons. John Wesley. Allenson, Naperville, IL. $6.75.

A Pocket Book of Wesley’s Sermons (13 sermons) condensed by Charles Britt. UM Discipleship Resources. 75¢ each, 10 or more 65¢

The Journal of John Wesley (condensed). Moody Press, Chicago, IL. $ 3.95.



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