John Wesley and the Age of Reason

Stuart Andrews describes how the founder of Methodism shared the encyclopaedic concern with science that characterizes the eighteenth century.

The age of Wesley was also the Age of Voltaire. The year 1738, when John Wesley found his heart ‘strangely warmed’ at a meeting in Aldersgate Street, was also the year when Voltaire published his Elements of the Philosophy of Newton. In 1759, the year of the publication of Candide, Wesley could be found telling the Methodist society at Norwich ‘in plain terms that they were the most ignorant, self-conceited, self-willed, fickle, untractable, disorderly, disjointed society that I knew in the three kingdoms’.

And in 1772, when the last volume of the French Encyclopédie made its appearance, Wesley recorded in his Journal: ‘I began to execute a design, which had long been in my thoughts, to print as accurate an edition of my Works as a bookseller would do. Surely I ought to be as exact for God’s sake as he would be for money.’

In his printed sermons, Wesley seems explicitly to repudiate the rational spirit of the age. His preface to Forty-one Sermons, published in 1747, contained a famous assertion:

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