Toward the beginning of John Wesley’s journal, he goes through a series of questions that he asks people who are critical of what he and the early Methodists are doing. They are pretty intense, but most Christians, even now, would approve of them. I wonder why we don’t do this kind of thing.
- Whether it does not concern all men of all conditions to imitate Him, as much as they can, ‘who went about doing good’?
Whether all Christians are not concerned in that command, ‘While we have time, let us do good to all men’?
Whether we shall not be more happy hereafter, the more good we do now?
Whether we can be happy at all hereafter, unless we have, according to our power, ‘fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those that are sick, and in prison’; and made all these actions subservient to a higher purpose, even the saving of souls from death?
Whether it be not our bounden duty always to remember that He did more for us than we can do for Him, who assures us, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me’?
- Whether, upon these considerations, we may not try to do good to our acquaintance? Particularly, whether we may not try to convince them of the necessity of being Christians?
Whether of the consequent necessity of being scholars?
Whether of the necessity of method and industry, in order to either learning or virtue?
Whether we may not try to persuade them to confirm and increase their industry, by communicating as often as they can?
Whether we may not mention to them the authors whom we conceive to have wrote the best on those subjects?
Whether we may not assist them, as we are able, from time to time, to form resolutions upon what they read in those authors, and to execute them with steadiness and perseverance?
- Whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are hungry, naked, or sick? In particular, whether, if we know any necessitous family, we may not give them a little food, clothes, or physic, as they want?
Whether we may not give them, if they can read, a Bible, Common-Prayer Book, or Whole Duty of Man?
Whether we may not, now and then, inquire how they have used them; explain what they do not understand, and enforce what they do?
Whether we may not enforce upon them, more especially, the necessity of private prayer, and of frequenting the church and Sacrament?
Whether we may not contribute what little we are able toward having their children clothed and taught to read?
Whether we may not take care that they be taught their catechism andshort prayers for morning and evening?
- Lastly: Whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are in prison? In particular, Whether we may not release such well-disposed persons as remain in prison for small sums?
Whether we may not lend smaller sums to those that are of any trade, that they may procure themselves tools and materials to work with?
Whether we may not give to them who appear to want it most a little money, or clothes, or physic?
Whether we may not supply as many as are serious enough to read, with a Bible and Whole Duty of Man?
Whether we may not, as we have opportunity, explain and enforce these upon them, especially with respect to public and private prayer and the blessed Sacrament?
It would appear that Wesley’s understanding of Christianity is both active and contemplative. Note what is bold above. Wesley made an effort to convince people to be Christians, to become scholarly persons as a Christian duty, and to work to increase both industry and virtue. I would suspect that though deep down, most Christians would say, “studying the Bible is good,” very few would say that being as scholarly as ones vocation and constitution allows is a consequent duty of being a Christian. I might say the same with Wesley’s attempt to persuade people to be industrious and virtuous. The New Testament is filled, obviously with commands and encouragements to virtue. But it also contains commands to be industrious and productive:
” ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω, μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω ἐργαζόμενος ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν τὸ ἀγαθόν, ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι. Ephesians 4:27″
Let those who steal no longer steal, but all the more let them labor well with their own hands so that they might have with which to give to those who have need. Ephesians 4:27
The efforts Wesley made to help people, as their Christian duty, care for their families, do good work in their trades, know their Bibles, and be busy about the commands of Jesus are certainly worthy of emulation today.