John Wesley and the Shaping of Liturgical Time


by John Drury


            The English revival led by John Wesley is often perceived as a reaction to the dry liturgical religion of a national church.  He was a defiant extemporaneous preacher and itinerant minister.  Yet it is this very evangelist who proclaimed even late in his career, “I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breaths more a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.”[i]  John Wesley may be more “high church” than expected.

            The Anglican liturgy left an indelible mark on Wesley’s ministry.  An investigation into the impact of liturgical time on the content of his sermons illumines this mark.  The following paper is the result of a comparative analysis of John Wesley’s sermons and the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which was in use during his whole lifetime.  His journal entries on particular days of interest have also been examined, as well as other writings which address the pious shaping of time.  Further confirmation of his attitudes toward the liturgy are found in his edition of the Book of Common Prayer sent to the North American Methodists.

            This comparative analysis is presented in two movements.  The first examines the influence on John Wesley’s preaching by the liturgical yearly cycle in the strict sense.  The second is an account of Wesley’s attitude toward other time structures.  “High church” motifs in Wesley’s writing in regards to weekly services, communion, and fast days are evident.  These comparative studies are offered in support of the thesis that John Wesley had a relatively high appreciation for Anglican liturgical structure of time.

            The study of Wesley and the liturgical year would be incomplete, however, if comparison where not coupled with contrast.  Wesley’s practice and teaching was not only shaped by the liturgy, but he in turn shaped time in the worship life of the Methodist movement.  Although I do not intend to present a complete history of the Methodist worship, I would like to point out the special emphases and innovations in Wesley’s ordering of time.  His sermons, journals, and worship instructions provide ample evidence in support of this complementary thesis.  These two theses present a picture of Wesley who was both in continuity with his Anglican heritage and breaking free from it.

I. John Wesley and the Anglican Church Year

            John Wesley was raised and educated under the ethos of the Anglican liturgy.  The primary source for his own pattern of pious time was outlined for him in the Book of Common Prayer.  His early preaching was especially guided by it.  Yet even as Wesley began preaching extemporaneously and outside the confines of church walls and schedules, he retained a deep affection for the Anglican forms.  These forms continued to shape the content of his preaching.

             Our primary task is to walk through the church year, stopping at points along the way to exhibit the liturgical yearly cycle’s influence on John Wesley’s sermons.  Correlation as well as special emphasis will be noted.  As the liturgical year commences with the season of advent, so shall I.

            Advent and Christmas

            Unfortunately there are no published sermons on Wesley’s preached during the Advent season or even addressing the Christmas message.  However, his perpetuation of the traditional Anglican celebration of Christmas is evidenced in his instructions to the North American Methodists.  The edition of the Book of Common Prayer he sent to them is designed for use on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  However, he retains Christmas as one of three holy days which do not necessarily fall on a Sunday.  The prescribed lessons (Isa. 9:1-8; 7:10-17; Lk. 2:1-15; Tit. 3:4-9) and psalms (19, 45, 85, 89) are modeled after those found in the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.[ii]

            New Year’s Day

            The liturgical year has often been understood as the church’s attempt to live out the life of Christ.  The story of Jesus’ life begins with his birth, celebrated on December 25.  As the Gospel of Luke records the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day according to Jewish law, so too the liturgical calendar has included the commemoration of Our Lord’s Circumcision eight days after Christmas on January first. 

            The 1662 Book of Common Prayer designates Romans 2 as the epistle reading for evening prayer services (“mattens”) on January first.[iii]  On this day in 1733, while teaching at Oxford, John Wesley expounded on Romans 2:29: “Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.”[iv]  He preached a beautiful sermon on the four inward virtues implied by the spiritual circumcision of the heart: humility, faith, hope, and charity.  This was the first of his writings to be published.[v]  His choice of theme clearly originates from liturgical celebration, and his reference was given to him by the lectionary. 

            Furthermore, not only was the form of his sermon shaped by liturgical time, his content sprang forth from the pious organization of space.  One might note his odd pairing of the three theological virtues with humility.  The reason for this association comes to light in the architecture of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, for there, chiseled into the stone of the floor, are found nine virtues.  The virtues lead like stepping stones from the four cardinal virtues to the three theological ones.  Mercy and humility form the bridge between these traditional sets.  So resting before the eyes of any Oxford student was the unlikely foursome of humility, faith, hope, and charity.  Wesley, at least in his earliest days, was under significant influence of the liturgical ordering of time and space.

            Soon after involving himself in the revival ministry, John Wesley and his Methodist societies began practicing a Watch-night service.  Although the first services of this nature occurred spontaneously and on a near monthly basis,[vi] the Watch-night service became a New Year’s Vigil.  The Methodists would gather on December 31 to sing and pray throughout the night.[vii]  Although this time scheme was carried over from the Moravians, Wesley was convinced it was in line with the Anglican tradition.  In a 1750 letter to Mr. Baily, Wesley proclaims, “Sir, did you never see the word Vigil in your Common-Prayer Book?... it was customary with the ancient Christians to spend whole nights in prayer ... we have not only the authority of our own national Church, but of the universal Church, in the earliest ages.”[viii]  So, although Wesley borrowed an arguably primitive church liturgical act from the Moravians, his defense includes an appeal to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

            On New Year’s Day itself, the Methodists would make or renew a covenant with God.  Wesley repeatedly recalls the blessings of this solemn service.[ix]  Unlike the Watch-night service, this communal confirmation of personal commitment finds no precedent in the Anglican liturgy.  The driving principle of a covenant has obvious associations with the Puritan Free Church movement.  However, it had a liturgical form, for which Wesley published an order of service in 1780,[x] and the Lord’s Supper was a central aspect of it.  Its association with January first has little liturgical precedence.  The practice could simply be a pragmatic one, for the societies would already be gathered from the Watch-night service the night before.  However, the folk connotations of New Year’s Day with future commitments (“resolutions”) makes some sense of covenanting on the first of the year.


            The church of England did and still does observe Lent.  John Wesley was quite familiar with the practices and messages of this season of mourning and preparation.  Although he does not mention Lent directly, he preached quite a few sermons during this season.  He also addresses the issue of fasting.

             “On Worldly Folly,”[xi] and “On the Wedding Garment”[xii] were both preached during Lent without correlation to the lectionary or the content of the season.  Two additional sermons do contain some correlation, albeit in a peculiar manner.  While in Georgia on February 20 of 1736, Wesley preached “On Love,” expounding on 1 Corinthians 13:3, a passage designated to be read February 1st.[xiii]  He also preached “The Rich Man and Lazarus” on March 25, 1738 at Birmingham on Luke 16:31,[xiv] a passage which was to be read twenty days earlier on March 5th.[xv]  Although it may be a coincidence, it is rather odd that both of these sermons were preached approximately twenty days late.  This same pattern of “lectionary delay” appears in a few of Wesley’s sermons during ordinary time.[xvi]  Perhaps there was some change was in effect of which we have no record.  Whatever the cause, these strange alignments exhibit the plausibility of greater attention to the lectionary by Wesley than the surface information indicates.

            A far clearer correlation can be found between the Book of Common Prayer and John Wesley’s sermon “The Great Assize.”[xvii]  On Friday March 10, 1758 at St. Paul’s, Bedford, nine days before Palm Sunday, he preached this sermon about the last judgment.  Although Romans 14:10 is listed as his text, he moves topically throughout the canon, which was his usual style.  Twice he refers to and expounds upon the eschatological discourse of Luke 21,[xviii] which was the reading for morning prayer that day.[xix]  Therefore, even at the height of his evangelical ministry, Wesley still turned to the prayer book for guidance and inspiration.

            Although he may have followed the lectionary during Lent, there is some indication that Wesley saw Lent as potentially harmful.  For instance, he removed it entirely from his edition of the Book of Common Prayer sent to the North American Methodists.[xx]  While addressing the matter of fasting in the Scriptures, he dubs the case of Daniel and his friends “abstaining from pleasant food” (Daniel 1:8ff) as the “lowest kind of fasting... Perhaps from a mistaken imitation of this might spring the very ancient custom of abstaining from flesh and wine during such time as were set apart for fasting and abstinence.”[xxi]  Here he appears to criticize the common observance of the Lenten fast.  

            Nevertheless, Wesley is quite supportive of fasting.  He retains Friday as the day of fasting in his instructions to North American Methodists.[xxii]  He rather comfortably and with approval lists Lent among the fast days of the Church.[xxiii]  He considers it “deplorable” that many Methodists are neglecting fasts,[xxiv] and his journals are full of his own commitment to fasting.  Therefore, despite his reservations about set fasts, John Wesley smiled upon the practice of regular fasting.

            Good Friday and Easter

            Out of all his voluminous works, not a single one of John Wesley’s sermons was designated for preaching on Good Friday or Easter.  His journals do indicate that he did preach and administer sacraments on these days.[xxv]  Also, Good Friday is the second of the only three holy weekdays in the year set aside in his edition of the Prayer Book for the North American Methodists.[xxvi]  It also worthy of note that his brother Charles wrote special songs to be sung on these days as well.[xxvii]  The lack of special homiletical attention to Good Friday and Easter do not imply a lack of appreciation for these segments of the liturgical year.  Rather they exhibit his confirmation and perpetuation of the temporal rhythm of his beloved church.

            Ascension Day and Whitsunday

            The third of the weekdays set apart by Wesley in his edition of the Prayer Book is Ascension Day.[xxviii]  The coming (Christmas), death (Good Friday), and ascension of Christ were far too important to leave out of the church year simply because they do not always fall on a Sunday.  Charles designated songs for all these days and many more.[xxix]  John does not have a sermon on the matter of the Ascension, but his liturgical instructions indicate his wish to continue in the Anglican tradition.

            Whitsunday, or Pentecost Sunday, recalls the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles.  For this particular day we do have a sermon of John’s to coincide with Charles’ hymns.[xxx]  John Wesley preaches “On the Holy Spirit” at St. Mary’s, Oxford on Whitsunday 1736.[xxxi]  The lectionary readings would have been Acts 2 and John 14-15.[xxxii]  However, he primarily expounds 2 Corinthians 3:17.  He explains by saying, “I shall pass by the particular extraordinary gifts vouchsafed to the first ages for the edification of the Church; and only consider what the Holy Spirit is to every believer, for his personal sanctification and salvation.”[xxxiii]  Such a turning away from Pentecostal language in favor of the Pauline was typical for Wesley, although his followers from John Fletcher onward have not followed suit.  Despite this dodging of the lectionary, Wesley’s theme sprouts directly out of the soil of the Book of Common Prayer.

            Ordinary Time

            The ordinary cycle of the liturgical year begins on Trinity Sunday, one week after Whitsunday.  Soon after Trinity Sunday in 1775, Wesley preached “On the Trinity” at Cork.[xxxiv]  He expounded I John 5:7, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one.”  Wesley’s doctrine of the Trinity appears to stand heartily on church tradition, as he quotes the Athanasius and the creeds liberally.[xxxv]  He asks for assent which is willful and dedicated to the substance of the doctrine, even if one cannot fully comprehend it.[xxxvi]  Once again Wesley’s choice of topic and theological attitude coincide comfortably with the teaching rhythms of the church year.

            Four more instances of the aforementioned “lectionary delay” in Wesley’s sermons occur during ordinary time.  The June 17, 1790 sermon “The Heavenly Treasure in Earthen Vessels” comments on 2 Corinthians 4:7,[xxxvii] the reading for June 6th -- eleven days earlier.[xxxviii]  The July 6, 1790 sermon “On Living Without God” preaches out of Ephesians 2:12,[xxxix] also assigned eleven days earlier on June 25.[xl]  The August 12, 1788 sermon “On the Omnipresence of God” explains Jeremiah 23:24,[xli]  which should have been read two weeks before on July 29th.[xlii]  The August 24, 1744 sermon “Scriptural Christianity” expounds Ezekiel 33:4,[xliii] yet that chapter was assigned six days earlier for August 18th.[xliv]  Whatever can be made of this strange evidence, there is some kind of correlation at work between John Wesley’s sermons and the Anglican lectionary.

            Ordinary time, along with the rest of the Anglican church year, contains many Saints’ Days.  Reformed forces in England had not entirely wiped out these Medieval traditions.  By his removal of any mention of saints in his instructions to North American Methodists, John Wesley seems to have not cared much for the veneration of particular saints.  However, Saints’ days are not removed from his Devotions for Every Day of the Week and the Great Festivals.  He includes an intercessory prayer for the saints[xlv] and an office for the saints’ festivals.[xlvi]

            Furthermore, Wesley focused particularly on All Saints’ Day.  Although he offers little by way of direct reasoning for this emphasis, his journals reveal his devotion.  On November 1, 1748, he writes, “Being All-Saints’ day, we had a solemn assembly at the chapel; as I cannot but observe, we have had on this very day, for several years.  Surely, “right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!”[xlvii]  On All Saints’ Day 1765, Wesley criticized those who are against remembering the saints, exclaiming, “How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints.”[xlviii]  He celebrates the cloud of witness who makes up the heavenly component of the church on All Saints’ Day:[xlix]

“On this day in particular, I commonly find the truth of these words:

      The Church triumphant in his love,

           Their might joys we know;

      They praise the Lamb in hymns above,

           And we in hymns below.”


He notes with appreciation the “admirable propriety with which the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the day are suited to each other.”[l]  John Wesley loved his Church, the saints upon which it was built, and the liturgy it practiced. 

II. Other Anglican Services

            The Anglican shape of liturgical time impacted Wesley’s own practices beyond that of the church year.  In a few particular sermons and other writings, he encouraged the perpetuation of traditional temporal piety.

            In response to feelings of dissension among his Methodist followers, Wesley urged them to continue attending the Anglican church.  In his sermon “On Attending the Church Service,”[li] he asks whether separating from the church of England is justified in light of the presence of unholy priests.  He affirms a rather “high church” view on the matter by claiming, “If God never did bless it, we ought to separate from the Church; at least where we have reason to believe that the Minister is an unholy man: If he ever did bless it, and does so still, then we ought to continue therein.”[lii]  Wesley goes on to prove that throughout scripture God can work through the ministry of unholy persons.[liii]  He says the same is true of the history of the church.[liv]  Having affirmed that God can work through unholy ministers, he contends that “this charge does not concern the whole body of the Clergy.”[lv]  He concludes that “the word of the Lord is not bound, though uttered by an unholy Minister; and the sacraments are not dry breasts, whether he that administers be holy or unholy.”[lvi]  By restating this ancient argument, Wesley aligns himself with the Anglo-Catholic tradition over against the separatists.

            John Wesley sought to perpetuate regular church attendance not only so the word would be heard by also that the sacrament would be received.  In his discourse “The Duty of Constant Communion,”[lvii] Wesley proclaims “that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’ Supper as often as he [sic] can.”[lviii]  He offers four reasons why this is the case: (1) “it is a plain command of Christ,”[lix] (2) it confers the benefits of forgiveness and refreshing, (3) it confirms the pardon of our sins, and (4) it has been the practice of the church since the beginning.[lx]  Therefore, as a command of God and as a mercy to humans, the Christian should receive communion constantly.[lxi]

            Wesley argues against any excuse to avoid its regular observance.  Feeling unworthy is no excuse, for the fear of damnation is even greater for those who ignore the command of God.[lxii]  Wesley cites the Anglican instructions that one should not commune unless he or she has repented, and comments that this surely does not mean to avoid the Lord’s Supper but rather urges us to repent and receive.[lxiii]  Some claim there is not enough time to prepare, but Wesley responds that, although self-examination and private prayer are good, to obey is even better.[lxiv]  Others object that constant communion reduces reverence for the sacrament.  Wesley retorts that reverence may come by the newness of a thing or by faith, and it is the latter from which comes the reverence for the Lord’s Supper.[lxv]  Still others might complain that they do not feel blessed by it, yet Wesley reaffirms that it is a command of Christ despite one’s feelings.[lxvi]  Finally, many avoid constant communion because it is only required three times a year by the church.  Wesley explains the church leaders by saying,[lxvii]

The plain sense of them is, that he who does not receive thrice at least, shall be cast out of the Church: But they by no means excuse him who communicates no oftener.  This never was the judgment of our Church: In the contrary, she takes all possible care that the sacrament be duly administered, wherever the Common Prayer is read, every Sunday and holiday in the year.


By this argument, Wesley emerges as a commentator on Anglican church law.  This entire discourse, the opinions of which he claimed to have not altered even as late as 1788,[lxviii] serves as a confirmation of Wesley’s “high church” attitude toward Christian piety.  His sense of the timing of communion unswervingly supports the pattern put forth by the Anglican church.

            The evidence exhibits John Wesley’s affirmation of Anglican regular worship services, especially those serving the Lord’s Supper.  But what did he have to say about Baptism?  In 1756, Wesley wrote “A Treatise On Baptism.”[lxix]  He addresses what it is, the benefits received by it, whether Christ intended it to be practiced, and who are the proper subjects of it.  Just as he approved the Anglican timing of the Lord’s Supper, so too does he approve of the Anglican timing of Baptism.  He responds to those who object to infant baptism by agreeing that repentance and faith must precede baptism for adults yet the same is not true for infants.[lxx]  They too have sin which needs forgiveness and are capable of entering into the covenant of the Church.[lxxi]  He further defends infant baptism by appealing to the practice of the universal church,[lxxii] a move indicating his affirmative attitude toward institutional tradition.  John Wesley’s opinions about the meaning and timing of baptism are born strait out of Anglican piety.

            In addition to the services of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, Wesley perpetuated the Friday fast days inherited from the Anglican church.  The Friday fast dates back to the earliest centuries of Christianity, and John Wesley had no intention of ending it.  He naturally supports its continuation as a fast day of the Church.[lxxiii]  The Friday fast remains in his instructions to North American Methodists.[lxxiv]  So Sundays services and the Friday fast of the Anglican church influenced him throughout his ministry.

            No aspect of Wesley’s rendering of pious time was left untouched by the Book of Common Prayer.  He published Devotions for Every Day in the Week in order to guide and encourage daily prayer among his readers. The daily offices stray very little from the Anglican daily prayers, with its Psalms, collects, and hymns.[lxxv]  The language is nearly identical to the Book of Common Prayer.

            Wesley consciously appropriated the yearly cycle as well as other services of the Anglican liturgical tradition.  Although he emphasized some more than others, the influence the Book of Common Prayer held on his preaching and practice is unquestionable.  Wesley was a man shaped by liturgical time.

III. John Wesley’s Innovations in Liturgical Time

            The evidence of Wesley’s affirmation and perpetuation of Anglican liturgical time is plentiful.  The goal of his ministry was certainly not an attack on Anglican piety.  However, John Wesley freely adapted the tradition of his mother church.  He borrowed services from other traditions and structured time anew, forming a peculiar time-sense among his followers.  He also encouraged changes akin to that of the Free Church tradition.  Although his affirmations far outweigh his innovations, as the above evidence suggests, Wesley did manage to leave a unique legacy on pious time.

            Wesley’s edition of the Prayer Book sent to the North American Methodists abridged the liturgical year drastically.  For instance, while the 1662 Book of Common Prayer retains many Saints’ Days, Wesley removes them entirely.[lxxvi]  He feels justified in this omission because he sees “at present answering no valuable end.”[lxxvii]  Lent is also removed, as well as epiphany and nearly every holiday which does not fall on a Sunday.[lxxviii] Although Wesley observed many of these days as the evidence above exhibits, he did not seem to regard them as fundamentals.  One might say his edition of the prayer book would have satisfied the Puritans and separatists of the previous century.  His “high church” ideals distinguish him from them, but his evangelical aims often yielded similar results.

            After his so-called “evangelical conversion” in 1738, John Wesley was recruited by George Whitefield to do field preaching in Bristol.  He preached the justification of sinners to the miners and revival broke.  By 1740, the newly formed Methodist societies gathered in meeting houses, where there was extemporaneous prayer and preaching.  Although always intended as a supplement to Anglican liturgy,[lxxix] these free form services became the mark of the Methodist revival.

            Wesley began to put down his manuscripts and prayer books.  The sermons were often engineered to fit occasions, rather than following the lectionary.  This was certainly not true of all his preaching, as shown above, but it was frequent enough to attract dissenters and separatists among the ranks of the Methodists.  As the movement grew, Wesley commissioned lay preachers, which only furthered his free form reputation.

            Those who were loyal to the Anglican church would criticize Wesley.  One man argued that one cannot think and prayer at the same time.  Wesley retorted that, if such a principle were true, then one could not read and pray at the same time either.[lxxx]  Although he did not wish to rid believers of the beautiful written prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, Wesley nevertheless wanted souls to have the freedom to engage in free worship too.  Apparently Wesley hoped his movement to enjoy the advantages of both read and extemporaneous prayer.  This dream did not come to fruition, however, especially in North America were “the general pattern of Puritan [free] worship had so influenced American Christianity that it became the norm for all.”[lxxxi]

            Wesley’s loosening of the sanctorale cycle and livening up of preaching and prayer were not his only innovations.  He also popularized three services new to the English landscape.  The first, the Love-feast, was borrowed from the Moravians.  As a missionary in Georgia in 1737, he witnessed the German Moravians gather for a Love-feast and was blessed by it.[lxxxii]  After returning to England, John and Charles joined one in Fetter-Lane on New Year’s Day, 1739.[lxxxiii]  Amazed by the work of God there, Wesley spread the service among the Methodist societies.  He directed men and women to come together once a quarter to eat a “little plain cake and water.”[lxxxiv]  This warm service introduces both familial and primitive church elements into the liturgical rhythm.  Although not directly opposed to anything in the Book of Common Prayer, it is certainly exterior to it.

            The Watch-night service was also learned from the Moravians.[lxxxv]  He defends it as coinciding with the Vigil of the Book of Common Prayer.  Although this is evidence of Wesley’s personal sense of continuity with his roots, its form was foreign to Anglican worship.  The Methodists were known for their boisterous celebration of God’s work in their lives.  Although it may have had precedence in the primitive and Anglican churches, the Watch-night services became a forum for innovative, free worship.

            The third service -- the Covenant service -- did not come from the Moravians, but from the Puritans.  John Bishop notes that Wesley would have learn the importance of making a covenant with God from his puritan mother, Susanna.[lxxxvi]  Though its inspiration springs from the Free Church movement, it has an incredibly high and solemn liturgy.[lxxxvii]  Yet, along with Watch-night service, liturgical elements did not keep it from becoming distinct from Anglican piety.  This simultaneously communal and personal service calls for renewal of one’s commitment to God.  For traditional Anglicans, such a renewal would take place on the anniversary of one’s baptism, which usually falls on Easter.  So Wesley’s Covenant service, albeit unintentionally, supplants a former service with a new one.

            Introducing new services into the liturgical rhythm of the pious life would sufficiently alter the time-sense of the Methodists.  Yet these acts were not only practiced as needed, but found their own home in the yearly cycle.  If there is any holiday John Wesley added to the liturgical calendar, it would be New Year’s Day.  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer designates January 1st only as Circumcision Day.[lxxxviii]  Wesley lists it and Christmas as “the Feasts of our Saviour.”[lxxxix]  This could certainly be said of January 1st before Wesley’s day, but the measure of emphasis he put on it is remarkable.  The Watch-night on New Year’s Eve and the Covenant Service on New Year’s Day became annual gatherings of the Methodist societies.  His starting point may have been the Book of Common Prayer, but the arms of Wesley’s liturgical legacy spread far wider.  

Conclusion: The Two Sides of John Wesley

            Two streams of thought flow through Wesley.  Two strands of practice run through his ministry.  There are two sides of John Wesley.  One is traditional, “high church” Anglican, while the other is free form evangelical.  One wishes to perpetuate and renew the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.  One wishes to introduce innovative means of liturgical time. 

            Although both of these sides are the true Wesley, the evidence indicates that one is subordinate to the other.  He was first of all a man of the Church.  The world may have been his parish, but the Anglican church was still his church and the Book of Common Prayer still his liturgy.  These traditional structures grounded his extemporaneous ministry.  His goal was not dissension, but a renewed life in the church.  As long as the liturgy of the church of England did not impede renewal, his mission was in continuity with it.  And his estimation is that the church never did stand in the way, but was rather a deep well of resources for pious living.[xc]

            Wesley loved the Anglican liturgy.  His innovations must be noted and praised.  Those in the tradition which follow him have every right and reason to focus on these.  Yet it would be a shame to ignore this other -- perhaps primary -- side of Wesley.  I hope this study on his appropriation of the church year is a reminder of this “high church” side.  This side tempered the excesses of free worship in the same way that the other side enlivened the dryness of tradition.

Winter 2001


                [i] From the Wesley’s preface to John Wesley’s Prayer Book: The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America (James F. White, ed.; Cleveland, OH: OSL Publications, 1991).

                [ii] Prayer Book, A3.

                [iii] Book of Common Prayer 1662 ed. (1891 facsimile; London: Eyre and Spottiswoode - C.J. Clay, 1891) 26.

                [iv] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978) V:202-212.

                [v] Works XI:369.

                [vi] The first Watch-night service, according to John Bishop, was probably on Friday, March 12, 1742; Methodist Worship in Relation to Free Church Worship (Scholars Studies Press, 1975) 93. Watch-nights were practiced more spontaneously at first, then became associated with New Year’s Eve.

                [vii] For instance, Works III: 77; IV:114

                [viii] Works IX:81.

                [ix] For instance, Works III: 385, 422; IV:38, 143

                [x] J. Bishop, Methodist Worship 97.

                [xi] Feb. 19, 1790 (two days after Ash Wednesday) at Balham on Lk. 12:20; Works VII:305ff.

                [xii] March 26, 1790 on Matt. 22:12; Works VII:311ff.

                [xiii] Works VII:192; lectionary assignment found in BCP 34.

                [xiv] March 25, 1738 at Birmingham on Luke 16:31; Works VII:244ff.

                [xv] BCC 35.

                [xvi] See below, page 10.

                [xvii] Works V:171-185.

                [xviii] Works V:172.

                [xix] BCP 35.

                [xx] Prayer Book A2.

                [xxi] Works V:347.

                [xxii] Prayer Book A3.

                [xxiii] Works V:347.

                [xxiv] Works VII:288.

                [xxv] For instance Works III:315.

                [xxvi] Prayer Book A3.

                [xxvii] Charles Wesley, Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection (London: W. Strahan, 1746); J. Ernest Rattenbury, The Evangelical Doctrines of Charles Wesley’s Hymns (London: Epworth Press, 1941) 163-165.

                [xxviii] Prayer Book A3.

                [xxix] J. E. Rattenbury, Charles Wesley’s Hymns 163-165.

                [xxx] J. E. Rattenbury, Charles Wesley’s Hymns 174-178.

                [xxxi] Works VII:508-520.

                [xxxii] BCP 164-165.

                [xxxiii] Works VII:514.

                [xxxiv] Works VI:199-206.  He preached this sermon on May 7th and had to finish writing it on May 8th in order to hand it over for printing.  He warns the reader of its defects because of his lack of time or books as he committed it to writing (VI:199).

                [xxxv] Works VI:200-201.

                [xxxvi] Works VI:200.

                [xxxvii] Works VII:344ff.

                [xxxviii] BCP 38.

                [xxxix] Works VII: 319ff.

                [xl] BCP 38.

                [xli] Works VII:238ff.

                [xlii] BCP 39.

                [xliii] Works V:37ff.

                [xliv] BCP 40.

                [xlv] John Wesley, Devotions for Every Day of the Week and the Great Festivals (Christian Library of Practical Divinity; London: Methuen & Co., 1908) 186.

                [xlvi] Devotions 143-155.

                [xlvii] Works II:119.

                [xlviii] Works II:388.

                [xlix] Works III:268.

                [l] Works III:302.

                [li] Works VII:174-185.

                [lii] Works VII:175.

                [liii] Works VII:176-177, 180-182.

                [liv] Works VII:178.

                [lv] Works VII:179.

                [lvi] Works VII:185.

                [lvii] Works VII:147-157.

                [lviii] Works VII:147.

                [lix] Works VII:147.

                [lx] Works VII:148-149.

                [lxi] See Works VII:149-150.

                [lxii] Works VII:152.

                [lxiii] Works VII:152.

                [lxiv] Works VII:155.

                [lxv] Works VII:155.

                [lxvi] Works VII:155

                [lxvii] Works VII:156.

                [lxviii] Works VII:147.

                [lxix] Works X:188-201.

                [lxx] Works X:199.

                [lxxi] Works X:193

                [lxxii] Works X:195.

                [lxxiii] Works V:347.

                [lxxiv] Prayer Book A3.

                [lxxv] Devotions 1-100.

                [lxxvi] Prayer Book A2 & A3.

                [lxxvii] Prayer Book preface.

                [lxxviii] Prayer Book A2 & A3.

                [lxxix] J. Bishop, Methodist Worship 69.

                [lxxx] Works I:292.

                [lxxxi] J. Bishop, Methodist Worship 73.

                [lxxxii] Works II:186.

                [lxxxiii] Works I:170.

                [lxxxiv] Works VIII:258-259.

                [lxxxv] J. Bishop, Methodist Worship 92.

                [lxxxvi] J. Bishop, Methodist Worship 95.

                [lxxxvii] The sermon for this service is found in John and Charles Wesley: Selected Prayer, Hymns, Journal Notes, Sermons, Letters and Treatises (Frank Whaling, ed.; New York: Paulist Press, 1981) 134-145.

                [lxxxviii] BCP 26.

                [lxxxix] Devotions 101.

                [xc] “I declare once more that I live and die a member of the Church of England,” and other strong words in support of the Anglican Church can be found in Works XIII:272.












Bishop, John.  Methodist Worship in Relation to Free Church Worship.  Scholars Studies Press, 1975.


Book of Common Prayer. 1662 ed. (1891 facsimile) London: Eyre and Spottiswoode - C.J. Clay, 1891.


Rattenbury, J. Ernest.  The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley.  Cleveland, OH: OSL Publications, 1990.


Rattenbury, J. Ernest.  The Evangelical Doctrines of Charles Wesley’s Hymns.  London: Epworth Press, 1941.


            Wesley, Charles.  Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection.  London: W. Strahan, 1746.


Wesley, John and Charles.  John and Charles Wesley: Selected Prayer, Hymns, Journal Notes, Sermons, Letters and Treatises.  Whaling, Frank, ed.  New York: Paulist Press, 1981.


Wesley, John.  Devotions for Every Day of the Week and the Great Festivals.  Christian Library of Practical Divinity.  London: Methuen & Co., 1908.


Wesley, John and Charles.  Hymns on the Lord’s Supper.  Bristol: Felix Farley, 1745.


Wesley, John.  John Wesley’s Prayer Book: The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America.  James F. White, ed.  Cleveland, OH: OSL Publications, 1991.


Wesley, John.  The Works of John Wesley.  3rd Edition.  14 Volumes.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978.