How to Read John Wesley’s Sermons

John Wesley is an author we go out of our way to read In the Torrey Honors Institute’s great books sequence. In most great books curricula, you wouldn’t likely find Wesley’s name ranked alongside Homer, Plato, Augustine, and Dante, but because of our evangelical identity at Biola, it is crucial that we interact with the classic evangelical voices. And John Wesley stands out as a major influence on evangelical Protestant thought and life. So we read him (among a select few post-Reformation evangelicals, including his contemporary Jonathan Edwards and our namesake R.A. Torrey).

There’s no problem deciding what we should read, either: Wesley’s sermons. Though he wrote and edited voluminously in a variety of genres, it’s the sermons that made history and deserve to be heard today. Wesley even specified a few dozen sermons that he considered to be standards, which makes our selection easier. In fact, back in the year 2000 I consulted with Wesley scholar Kenneth Collins of Asbury Theological Seminary and asked him what primary text he would assign to a captive audience of undergraduates. He said, as I expected, the 52 Standard Sermons, and he even recommended a representative sub-set within them.

But we’ve had trouble getting the old 19th-century edition of the Standard Sermons into the hands of students, and have limped along, making do with internet versions (they’re in the public domain, after all). For years we’ve had these practical challenges when answering the question, “what primary source should one read to grasp the thought of John Wesley?”

So I’m delighted that Abingdon has just released a volume that solves our problems: The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey.

At about 650 pages, this collection of 60 of Wesley’s sermons is pretty likely to serve this generation as the definitive anthology for reading Wesley firsthand. It is published by a Methodist press and edited by two respected Methodist scholars. One of those two editors is the aforementioned Ken Collins, and the other is Jason Vickers, Associate Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies and United Theological Seminary.

Vickers is author, most recently, of Minding the Good Ground: A Theology for Church Renewal (Baylor UP, 2011) and is one of the leaders in the program known as Canonical Theism. As for his credentials to edit the sermons of Wesley, he is author of Wesley: A Guide for the Perplexed , and co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to John Wesley.

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  • http://revmhj.com/ Matthew Johnson

    Out of curiosity, does the collection not contain “Awake Thou that Sleepest”? I haven’t received my copy yet and this may appear to be a technicality with reference to the last question, but according to Outler and Heitzenrater’s anthology that sermon is a Charles Wesley sermon.

    • FredFredSanders

      Matthew, it’s got “Awake” as the fourth sermon. And yes, that’s by Charles Wesley, you’re right.


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