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When I enrolled in seminary, I was pretty outspoken about the required course that I was least interested to take: “John Wesley’s Theology for Today.”
My general complaint went something like this: “We already had a Messiah, and it wasn’t John Wesley. We already have the Word of God, and it didn’t come to us in the 18th century.” (For what it’s worth, I still agree with those statements!) I felt like the emphasis on Wesley was a bit excessive.
But I’ll happily admit my mistake now. In all of my studies, John Wesley’s teaching – especially that in his Standard Sermons – has affected my faith and life more than any other teaching outside the Bible. In Wesley’s sermons, I discovered a deeper faith and a better understanding of the Scriptures than ever before. Wesley opened Scripture to me in a way that made God’s grace more profound and far-reaching than I had ever realized. He showed me a call to life in God that was at once more disciplined and more joyful than anything I had previously imagined. (See more at “Why I Love Wesleyan Theology.”)
I want more people to experience that.
At the same time, I know the language/grammar barrier has been a major obstacle to some people. I’ve urged friends and church members to read Wesley, and they came back saying they just couldn’t get through it. Wesley’s rhetorical style is often complex. Add to that a King James style of English, and it’s at least one too many obstacles for most people to plow through.
I don’t want to tamper much with Wesley’s rhetoric. It’s charming and convincing if you can get into it. Note: I’m not trying to take Wesley all the way to a “Message” Bible sort of translation. Where his rhetoric and arguments are complex, I’ve tried to preserve that complexity rather than paraphrase it. That means it’s still rather tough sledding in places. But I’ve worked over the last several years to remove some of the language/grammar obstacles for my friends. I’m hoping to slowly work through all of Wesley’s standard sermons to provide a more accessible version.
(Note: I know this has been done and published before. I still think there’s a place for a new “translation,” and certainly for a freely accessible one. For the reasons I mention above, my translation is attempting to preserve a bit more of Wesley’s rhetorical structure than the other updates I’ve seen. If you would like a very good print version, I can highly recommend to you John Wesley on Christian Beliefs Volume 1: The Standard Sermons in Modern English Volume 1 and the other 2 volumes in that set, by Ken Kinghorn [affiliate link]. If you would like another good, online version, see the updates at emmanuelcairns.com).
To the general public:
I hope you’ll try some of these out. The language is hopefully easier, but the reasoning and topic matter can still be complex and deep. Read slowly! If you just glaze over these, I think you’ll miss the brilliance of what these sermons hold.
As you read, I’d love to talk about what you’re seeing. Do you have questions? Things that still don’t make sense? Or objections? I’d love to hear from you.
To the Wesley scholars:
My aim has been to “translate” Wesley into an NIV style of grammar and language while preserving his message and approach. As with all translations, this has required some of my own interpretation. Are there any places where I’m distorting or misrepresenting Wesley? Are there places that could be altered to be more understandable? I’d like to put these in a form useful for preaching today (as I’ve done with “Salvation by Faith”) or for small group reading and discussion (as I’ve done with several of the ones forthcoming).
I’d love your help. Consider these an early rough draft for some crowd-sourcing revisions. My version of “Salvation by Faith” is publicly available for comment on Google Docs right here. Please make editorial comments there, not on my blog. I’d like to reserve the blog post for discussion about the sermon’s content.
And if any of you have made similar translations of any of Wesley’s standard sermons, I’d love to see them.
18 thoughts on “John Wesley’s Sermons for Today”
I appreciate what you are doing here. I have thought through what you have with the Sermons of Wesley and come to the same conclusion that we need to translate them into common English today. Thanks for what you are doing. I feel this will be an extremely helpful tool in discipleship.
In a discussion today a friend mentioned how difficult it is to read and understand John Wesley’s sermons today. The entire group agreed. I remembered seeing a link of your work updating the language of these sermons and I just sent it to the group. Thank you, this may help us.
Hi. After decades under UM appointment I am finally reading Wesley’s S Sermons on Several Occasions in order. He’s rocking my world. Here’s my question: in “The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God”
Wesley speaks of faith as “divine, supernatural intercourse with God” and seems to say that committing outward sin requires a loss of faith. I understand and appreciate his emphasis on the vitality of God being maintained in the soul by faith and “keeping oneself” in the relationship into which God’s grace brings us, but to speak of “losing” faith sounds like one either needs to be justified and born again after any outward sin. That doesn’t square with what he says in On Sin in Believers and Repentance in Believers. Can you help me get a better grasp on this?
Thanks for reading and posting this. Wesley’s teaching on outward sin and faith rocks a lot of people’s worlds. It did mine, too.
Your description from “The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God” sounds like how I’ve understood Wesley to view sin and faith. I think you see the same in his sermon #1, “Salvation By Faith,” and consistently through the rest of his teaching. What did he say in the two sermons you referenced at the end of your comment that made them seem inconsistent?
Janni from Indonesia. Appreciate what you did with the Modern English. Thank you so much. Do you have the whole sermons?
Thanks! I’m afraid I have not updated all of the sermons. Sorry!
I’m trying to find out who you are as I am about to preach the first half of your version of “The Almost Christian” tomorrow morning to my two-church charge.
That’s great to hear! I’m glad it was helpful. I’m a UMC pastor in Lexington, KY. No need to cite me in sermon or anything of the sort. I’m just glad this was useful.
How did it go?