Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mining the gold

Morton Kelsey in his book, ‘Adventure within’ speaks intimately of the value of journaling as a reflective practice, speaking of it as a friend through whom many discoveries have been learned. Clapper understands that Wesley’s journal isn’t really an instrument of personal reflection per se but rather it would appear to be more a comment on the ‘doings of others.’ Wesley doesn’t appear to be ‘…a self-centred spiritual physician constantly taking his own spiritual pulse.’[1] Perhaps this is due to Wesley’s awareness of how he nearly came a cropper because of the influence upon him, at one time, of mystics and their encouragement to journey within. His well known comment that, “I think the rock on which I had the nearest made shipwreck of the faith was the writings of the Mystics,”[2] going on to add, “for they stab [Christian faith] in the vitals: and its most serious professors are most likely to fall by them. My I praise Him who hath snatched me out of this fire,” [3] and even saw this position as the “fairest of Satan’s devices,”[4] and snare to catch the unsuspecting.[5] Clearly, Wesley thought of the Christian life as life lived out and not in. Although he did say that Thomas à Kempis’ writing helped him to understanding that ‘true religion was seated in the heart and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as words and actions.’[6] He later went on to write that if faith and relationship in God as taught by the mystics was based on the ‘inward journey’ the end result was a dangerous bondage.[7] It was to be the reason why he broke away from the Moravians also, condemning the idea of ‘being still.[8] R.C. Sproul echoes similar thought regarding true religion being of the heart when he wrote,
We know that the disposition of the heart toward Christ is of supreme importance. If our doctrine is correct, our intellectual understanding of theology impeccable, it is to no avail if our heart is ‘far from him.’ If the head is right and the heart is wrong, we perish. On the other hand, if the head is confused, the understanding muddled, and the doctrine fuzzy, there is still hope for us if our hearts beat with a passion for God. Better the empty head than the empty heart.[9]

Heitzenrater’s understanding is that Wesley’s journal is more a diary of action than a reflective journal with its emphasis being the ‘…intention of changing the religious situation by authenticating a particular kind of religious appeal, especially to that of Christian Perfection’.[10] Tuttle shows in his work that Wesley still held onto some of the mystics inward spiritual reflectiveness for spiritual direction even although he clearly rejects their synthesis of religion and man’s wisdom as ‘dross’ he still appreciates the ‘mystical gold’.[11]

[1] Clapper, Gregory S, ‘Wesley’s Other Publications’, London, The Scarecrow Press, 1989, p.131.
[2] John Wesley, The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. John Telford, 8 Vols, London, Epworth, 1931, 1:207.
[3] John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed Nehemiah Curnock, 8 vols, London, Epworth, 1909, 1:420
[4] John Wesley, Wesley’s Standard Sermons, ed. E.H. Sudgen, 2 vols, London, Epworth,
1921, 1:378n.
[5] John Wesley, The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. John Telford, 8 Vols, London, Epworth, 1931, Journal 6:10.
[6] John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed Nehemiah Curnock, 8 vols, London, Epworth, 1909, 1:466
[7] See his Journal entry for January 25th, 1738, This was prepared as a second memorandum on his spiritual condition, the manuscript for which is extant in Wesley College, Bristol. Here he considers the different views of Christianity as given by 1) The Scripture, 2) The Papists, 3) The Lutherans and Calvinists, 4) The English Divines, 5) The Essential Nonjurors and finally 6) The Mystics. Cf. Richard P. Heitzenrater, ‘The Works of John Wesley, Journal and Diaries, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1988, p.212-213.
[8] Cf. John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed Nehemiah Curnock, 8 vols, London, Epworth, 1909, 2:329-330.
[9] R.C. Sproul, ‘Burning Hearts are not Nourished by Empty Heads’, ‘Christianity Today’, September, 1982.
[10] Richard P. Heitzenrater, ‘The Works of John Wesley’, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1988, p.29.
[11] See Robert G Tuttle Jr., ‘Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition’, Grand Rapids, Francis Asbury Press, 1989, 91-111, 143- 166. Wesley clearly appreciated Fènelon’s treatise ‘On Simplicity’ and continued to mine its gold.

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