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!!