Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In this “plain account,” John Wesley revisits themes which he had written about in his journal, parts of which had published. He wanted, among other goals, to clarify his position on the question of “Christian perfection.” He primarily collected early works but also included materials spanning some 20 years that clarified and expanded on his points. He includes these works along with his own writings, some very informal, which included the hymns. Overall, Wesley intended to show that his position remained consistent, so he used pieces from different years to show that consistency. Some readers may think that he overemphasized points that were already clear, but he apparently aimed to remove any doubt from his critics’s minds.
The primary components are two published sermons, “Circumcision of the Heart” and “Christian Perfection”, and booklets entitled “Thoughts on Christian Perfection” and “Further Thoughts on Christian Perfection.” Rather than the complete text, he selected excerpts based on themes and organized them chronologically. Also included is the tract “The Character of a Methodist.” The interspersed supplementary materials also include his recorded recollections or reports based on conferences and conversations.
Going back to his youth, Wesley shares with the reader some of the earliest religious works he had read and the ways these had informed his beliefs. Among those were the theme of purity of intention and wholly dedicating one’s life to God. Wesley reviews several religious works that he wrote while forming his own religious vocation. These ideas fed into his 1733 sermon, “Circumcision of the Heart.” The total dedication to God, he professes, lies in “the living sacrifice of the heart” which one must give entirely to God, through praise in thoughts, words, and works.
From then on, as he formed his Methodist principles, Wesley increasingly turned to the idea of “perfection.” The tension between true devotion to God (including the rejection of sin) and the thought that questions about perfection could be sacrilegious by indicating pride is one issue he wrestles with. As the temptation to sin is constant, one must strive not only to resist what was presented but also to overcome desires other than the desire to know God. Reading and recalling Scripture was a key component of that daily habit. Giving oneself over to God, he wrote, demands humility: “True humility is a kind of self-annihilation; and this is the center of all virtues.”