Here is John Wesley’s scathing last sermon to the University of Oxford
“So many of you are a generation of triflers; triflers with God, with one another, and with your own souls? For, how few of you spend, from one week to another, a single hour in private prayer! How few have any thought of God in the general tenor of your conversation! Who of you is in any degree acquainted with the work of his Spirit, his supernatural work in the souls of men? Can you bear, unless now and then in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted, if one began such a conversation, that it was hypocrisy? In the name of the Lord God Almighty, I ask, what religion are you of? Even the talk of Christianity, ye cannot, will not bear. O my brethren, what a Christian city is this!
I have just attended a very interesting talk on Wesley and Whitfield in a Summer School I am attending at the Wycliffe College, Oxford University, on the Christian history of Oxford.
Wesley began to be a serious Christian at the age of 22 after reading The Imitation of Christ. He writes, “I began to see that true religion was seated in the heart and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions. I began to set in earnest upon a new life.
I executed a resolution which I was convinced was of the utmost importance, shaking off at once all my trifling acquaintance, I began to see more and more the value of time.I applied myself closer to study.”Similarly, when Whitfield was converted, he writes that he “put off all trifling conversation, put all trifling books away, and was determined to study to be a saint, and then to be a scholar.”
I love reading about the effects of people’s conversions, and I love the new seriousness which infected Wesley after his conversion. He shakes off all relationships which are trivial and “trifling,”-insignificant. He values his time. He applies himself to study.
It is as if in taking God seriously, he has begun to take himself seriously. In fact, beginning to read is a not infrequent effect of conversion.
Trifler is not a word one hears in England, but when I lived in the American South, older people would call a slight, trivial, unserious person, “a trifling person.” Funny how words persist across the Atlantic, which have died out here.
Wesley greatly stressed reading for Christians. Without reading, your knowledge of God, your fellow men, the spiritual life, Christian history, the Bible and theology will be limited to your own experience and conversations. If you read however, within a couple of hours you are enriched by, possibly, decades of someone else’s thinking, study and experience.
What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.
I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety, there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.
O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not: what is tedious at first, will afterwards be pleasant.
Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a petty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether.
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I wrote yesterday about deciding to take up my calling as a writer with new seriousness. And I guess that means saying goodbye to trifling. Goodbye to spending time on what Wesley calls “trifling acquaintance” and trifling pursuits. Instead, facing my life with a new seriousness and focus which will spring I hope from abiding in Christ.
Ah, a new gauge for whether I read a book, watch a movie, embark on this recreation or social activity. Is it “trifling?” If so, is there a better use of my time—and life?
So help me, God!!
Miss Mollie says
The Holy Spirit and Power by John Wesley, edited and updated by Clare Weakly. Bridge Logos Foundation is the publisher.
Audio excerpts download:
Anita Mathias says
What's the title of the book, MOLLIE. It sounds like something I'd love!!
Isn't it fascinating that we can be transformed by the renewing of the mind? That's so hope-filled!
Anita Mathias says
Yes, I agree there is often the danger of being “too” intense. I know people who try to pray whenever the mind is fallow, i.e. when driving, walking, tidying up, and I often try to do so myself!!
For myself, I can tell when I have had too much of spiritual things, and then I might watch a documentary, or read non-fiction or fiction. Or garden or exercise.
Having said that, the taste for spiritual things keeps deepening, and sometimes praying, reading my Bible or listening to it on a walk, or reading a good spiritual book can be as full of relaxation, joy, happiness and excitement as anything else. So then, I go with the flow a bit, but am always careful not to overdo spiritual things.
I was trained in Mother Teresa's convent, when I wanted to be a nun. Catholics stress a balance of prayer, study, and manual work, and I find that balance (substitute gardening, housework or exercise for manual work) is necessary for my long term happiness and stability!!
Basically, I can tell when I am getting too intense, and should then change the activity to something different (but not trivial or a sheer waste of time). I am v. intense, gladly or sadly–no TV, never watch sports, only literary fiction, no popular music, though I love film, and classical music. Not everyone's cup of tea:-)
Tim Sloan says
Hi Anita, interesting excerpts from Wesley's life, well put together – thanks.
I know exactly where you and he are coming from, however I suspect you will probably agree that there is always the danger of becoming too intense when 'taking yourself seriously'? Since lightheartedness and leisure time are part of being human I wonder how the right balance can be struck.
As a natural introvert who isn't big on superficial interactions and small talk aspects of this have come naturally (I've avoided Facebook altogether!) but so has the intensity associated with focussing frequently on the deeper things in life. I want people to encounter me as happy and relaxed but to have a profound inner life that can be seen and accessed when the time is right. I guess it's a lifelong learning experience isn't it…
Miss Mollie says
I'm reading John Wesley's book of sermons on the Holy Spirit and Power. I am fascinated by how people have not changed.
Transform the mind by reading great books.
Anita Mathias says
How interesting!! I am politically apathetic, and haven't voted, partly because I have kept moving between 3 countries. I think I would be a single-issue voter, and vote for whoever's policies would be best for the poor–both of their own country, and in the 3rd and 4th world.
You might like this little piece of mine on this subject of Christ's sovereignty over everything
Someone from another country posed this question on a blog…why is it that Americans mix up their politics and religion? He felt it was a very bad thing, especially in the light of the whole “separation of church and state” that we Americans always drone on about :). My answer was simple. For me, God calls us to live the Christ-life ALL the time, not just some of the time. It should permeate every aspect of our lives, not just when we're in church. I was amazed that my comment was poorly received by many readers. “Religion and politics should never mix”…”You should never let your faith dictate who you vote for”.
This attitude really surprised me. I don't recall that Jesus ever talked about any exceptions to any of his calling for us to live a life of grace.
I am fascinated to hear Wesley's words because they speak to exactly why my faith colors my political decisions. I DO take God into the ballot box with me, because to leave him outside would be denying his presence in my life.
Wesley's words ring true – living a life in faith should soak into every aspect of our lives, not just the time we spend in church.