The Sermons of Charles Wesley: A Critical Edition, with Introduction and Notes

By Charles Wesley; Kenneth G. C. Newport | Go to book overview

Sermon 15 Matthew 5: 20

Introductory Comment

The MS of this sermon provides no clear evidence regarding where or when it was preached by Charles. This said, the circumstantial evidence (and indeed the content) suggests that this is a sermon from the 'pre-Pentecost' period, and probably from Charles's time on the way to or in America. The only date on the MS is 5 January 1735, a date prior to Charles's own ordination, but upon which John preached a sermon on the same text. 1 It thus seems probable, as Albin has argued, that this is a sermon which Charles copied from one of John's MSS, though the fact that Charles has not said so raises some doubts. These issues have been discussed more fully in Chapter 4 .

Even allowing for the probability that this is a sermon copied from John, however, it is still properly printed in this volume and may be taken as indicative of Charles's own view and homiletic art. As already argued, it is highly unlikely that he simply copied his brother's sermons without taking the opportunity which that process provided of pulling them fully into line with his own thinking. In this sermon there is quite strong MS evidence to suggest that this was indeed the case.

The MS is held at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. 2 It comprises ten leaves; leaves 2-9 are written recto and verso. Leaf 1, the front cover, is written recto only, though nothing upon it appears to be in Charles's own hand, and leaf 10 is blank verso and recto. However, this simple account of the MS conceals a possibly quite complex story, though not one that can be reconstructed with any certainty. The verso of leaf 2 is clearly numbered by Charles as page '2' and the numbering is then consecutive up to and including the recto of leaf 6 (numbered as page '13'). The numbering then stops, though in fact there is material written on the verso of leaf 6 and on the recto and verso of leaf 7, which one would have expected to be numbered pages 14-16. Further, the last three lines on Charles's page 13 are written in shorthand, and that shorthand continues over the page for a further four lines. The rest of that page is then left blank and the sermon restarts on the recto of leaf 7 with a new sentence. This is a confusing state of affairs. Why would Charles have stopped numbering the pages and left such a large gap? Why would he have reverted to shorthand at one point in the MS? It may be conjectured that the reason was this: Charles was copying his brother's MS in a fairly mechanical way up to the point where the shorthand section begins. However, at this point he felt that some reference to the Quietists was appropriate, given that he had just written/copied a section relating to the relative importance of the internal and external aspects of the religious life. He thus introduced into the sermon a section of his own, written in shorthand, relating to the views of those who rejected the 'outward parts of our most holy religion'. This section continues overleaf for four more lines, at which point Charles broke off, though he left himself space to continue

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