One joy that comes from reading John Wesley’s journals — and do not get me wrong, it does take some perseverance to read them — are the glimpses of Wesley the pastor. After reading the works of Wesleyan theologians who work so hard to create systems out of his thought, I am struck by how much he varied his preaching and teaching based on his perception of the needs of his various hearers.
For example, a couple of quotes from entries in 1785:
Having a stupid people to deal with, I spoke exceedingly plain; and I think many of them, even Somersetshire farmers, felt as well as heard. Thence we went on to Ditchet. The people here are all attentive; so that I had nothing to do but apply the promises. (Sept. 2)
I preached in Bethnal-Green church, and spoke as plain as I possibly could, on “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.’ And this I judged to be far more suitable to such a congregation, than talking of justification by faith. (N0v. 20)
We see him in the same period perplexed by the lack of impact of the work of Methodists:
I preached at Stoke; and the evening at Pensford; where, I fear, after all the pains we have taken, the generality of the people know just as much of religion as the Hottentots. (Sept. 13)
We even find him adapting his Covenant Renewal Service to meet the needs of those who came to participate:
We began that solemn service, the renewing of our covenant with God, not in the evening, as heretofore, but at three in the afternoon, as more convenient for the generality of people. And God was with us in truth. (Jan. 1, 1786)
Here he was near the very end of his life still adjusting and tinkering and fretting over the failures of the movement. Reading such things chips some of the marble off his image and makes him more a man, at least for me.