Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition

Author: John Wesley

Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition

Wesley, John, 1703-1791

For some years after Mr. Wesley had entered upon the office of a Christian Minister his views of evangelical truth were very defective. His temper was deeply serious, and it was his sincere and earnest desire to save his own soul, and them that heard him; but he understood not the nature and extent of the Christian salvation, nor the faith by which it is obtained. In this state he wrote and published little. A revised translation of Empire’s "Christian’s Pattern," a single Sermon, and a small Collection of Prayers, which he formed for the use of his pupils at Oxford, were his only publications at this period of his life. The case was widely different when he was brought to an acquaintance, both in theory and experience, with the truth as it is in Jesus. He then felt that "the world was his parish;" and that he had a message from God to all men. The love of Christ constrained him to publish that message in all parts of the land, regardless of toil, contempt, and danger; and the same principle rendered him one of the most voluminous writers of the age. For fifty years the press was incessantly employed under his direction, in multiplying books of the most useful kind, adapted to the spiritual benefit of all classes of the community, but chiefly designed for the instruction of the poor. His different works were printed in London, Bristol, Dublin, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne; but they were often confided to the care of men who were incompetent to the task of correcting them; and the itinerant ministry in which he was incessantly employed rendered it impossible that they should undergo his own inspection as they passed through the press. The consequence was, that errors accumulated in them, till, in several instances, they failed to express the author’s meaning.

Reminded, at length, by advancing years, of his approaching end, and desirous that, after his decease, his trumpet should not "give an uncertain sound," he undertook a careful revision of his whole works, which he published in a uniform edition. It is comprised in thirty-two duodecimo volumes; the first of which bears the date of 1771, and the last that of 1774. To this edition the following address "to the reader" is prefixed: —

"1. I have had a desire, for several years, if God should spare me a little longer, to print in one collection all that I had before published in separate tracts. (I mean, all the prose, except the Notes on the Bible, the System of Philosophy, the Christian Library, and the books which were designed for the use of Kingswood School) These I wanted to see printed together; but on a better paper, and with a little larger print than before."

"2. I wanted to methodize these tracts, to range them under proper heads, placing those together which were on similar subjects, and in such order that one might illustrate another. This, it is easy to see, may be of use to the serious reader, who will then readily observe, that there is scarce any subject of importance, either in practical or controversial divinity, which is not treated of more or less, either professedly or occasionally."

"3. But a far more necessary work than that of methodizing, was the correcting them. The correcting barely the errors of the press is of much more consequence than I had conceived, till I began to read them over with much more attention than I had done before. These, in many places, were such as not only obscured, but wholly destroyed, the sense; and frequently to such a degree, that it would have been impossible for any but me to restore it. Neither could I do it myself, in several places, without long consideration: The word inserted having little or no resemblance to that which I had used.

"4. But as necessary as these corrections were, there were others of a different kind, which were more necessary still. In revising what I had wrote on so many various subjects and occasions, and for so long a course of years, I found cause for not only literal or verbal corrections, but frequently for correcting the sense also. I am the more concerned to do this, because none but myself has a right to do it. Accordingly I have altered many words or sentences; many others I have omitted; and in various parts I have added more or less, as I judged the subject required: So that in this edition I present to serious and candid men my last and maturest thoughts, agreeable, I hope, to Scripture, reason, and Christian antiquity.

"5. It may be needful to mention one thing more, because it is a little out of the common way. In the extract from Milton’s ’Paradise Lost,’ and in that from Dr. Young’s ’Night Thoughts,’ I placed a mark before those passages which I judged were most worthy of the reader’s notice, The same thing I have taken the liberty to do throughout the ensuing volumes. Many will be glad of such a help; though still, every man has a right to judge for himself, particularly in matters of religion, because every man must give an account of himself to God.

"John Wesley.

"March, 1771."

The printer employed upon this occasion was William Pine, of Bristol; whose carelessness in a great measure defeated Mr. Wesley’s design in the correction of his works. In the seventeenth volume, page 56, the argument is completely ruined by an omission, which Mr. Wesley has thus noticed in the table of errata: — "By the inexcusable negligence of the printer and corrector, several paragraphs are here left out." A more grievous instance of the same kind occurs in the twenty-ninth volume, page 183; where one hundred and seven pages are omitted, making a chasm in the Journal of one year and three months. On this subject the following entry is made by Mr. Wesley in the volume which he left in his own private library: — "H.B. from this day, July 20, 1749, to Nov. 2, 1751, is wanting, by the inexcusable negligence of the printer. An entire Journal!"

In addition to these instances of flagrant inattention, it should also be stated, that Pine’s edition of Mr. Wesley’s works is disfigured throughout by inaccuracies, many of which greatly affect the sense. Mr. Wesley prepared a list of errata, which he prefixed to each volume; and in the copy of his works which he reserved for his personal use, he corrected the whole with his own hand. One of these errors may be properly mentioned as an example: The number might be greatly increased. In volume the twenty-eighth, page 98, having given an account of his mother’s death and funeral, Mr. Wesley inserts a letter written by her, in which she describes her manner of governing her children when they were under her care at Epworth. One of her rules was, as there stated, "That no sinful action, as lying, pilfering at church, or onthe Lord’s day, disobedience, quarreling, etc., should ever pass unpunished." This law of the family, as it here stands, is a perfect libel upon the understanding and conscience of the excellent mother, and upon the character and habits of her well-disciplined children. It supposes that, under ordinary circumstances, "pilfering" is not "sinful action;" and that it only becomes such when committed in the "church," or on the Sabbath; and intimates that, if the children were only honest on that sacred day, and when engaged in public worship, they might, at other times, and in other places, transgress the eighth commandment with impunity. Suspicions have been actually deduced from this most objectionable passage, unfavorable even to the moral character of the Wesley family. Whereas they were all innocent in this affair. Mrs. Wesley’s rule was, "That no sinful action, as lying, pilfering, playing at church, or on theLord’s day, disobedience, quarreling, etc., should ever pass unpunished." Thus it stands in the early editions of the Journal, and thus it stands corrected by Mr. Wesley. Pine’s most injurious misprint, however, was perpetuated in the successive editions of the Journal for half a century; and during that period was also unhappily transferred to various other publications which have been extensively circulated.

Mr. Wesley’s edition of his own works was rendered particularly valuable by an addition that was made to those of his Sermons to which a legal importance was afterwards attached. These Sermons were published at different times, and were originally comprised in three duodecimo volumes. The first bears the date of 1746; the second, of 1748; and the third, of 1750. A fourth was added in the year 1760; containing also some other practical tracts, partly original and partly selected; and it was not numbered as connected with the former series. To these Sermons ten others were now added. Some of them had been published as separate pamphlets, having been preached on particular occasions: The rest appear to have been written for the express purpose of giving a more complete view of the author’s doctrinal system. 1 The entire series is inserted in the first four volumes of the works in the edition of 1771-1774; and to these Sermons it is that reference is made in the Trust Deeds of the Methodist chapels, as embodying, with his Notes on the New Testament, the doctrines of the Connection.

To meet the circumstances of the poor, the corrected and uniform edition of Mr. Wesley’s works was published in weekly numbers, at sixpence each. 2

"1. That the work will be neatly printed in duodecimo, on a fine paper, and new letter; cast on purpose by Isaac Moore and Co."

"2. That a number, containing seventy-two pages, stitched in blue paper, shall be delivered weekly to the subscribers, till the whole is completed, at sixpence."

"3. That every five numbers will make a handsome volume, containing about three hundred and sixty pages."

"4. That in the last volume will be given a correct and copious Index."

"5. That particular attention will be paid, through the whole, to the goodness of the paper, and neatness of the print; so that when finished, it is not doubted but it will afford, general satisfaction to the subscribers, as well as put them in possession of a uniform and elegant edition of so valuable a work."]

This edition contains a large number of tracts which were not written by Mr. Wesley, but abridged and adopted from various authors; and as he lived nearly twenty years after it was published, and continued during this interval to write with his usual diligence, at the time of his death it was, of course, extremely incomplete. To meet the wishes of his friends, therefore, in the year 1809 a new edition of his works, in the octavo size, was commenced, and finished in 1813. It is comprised in sixteen volumes, to which was afterwards added an Index to the whole. Respecting this edition it may be observed that the printer overlooked Mr. Wesley’s tables of errata; that the original arrangement of the Sermons was altered, those which were intended by the author to constitute the standard doctrines of Methodism being mixed up with others, apparently for the sake of variety; that two papers, one on baptism, (Vol. XIII., p. 412,) and another on the immortality of the soul, (Vol. XV., p. 343,) were not written by Mr. Wesley; and that, as no record of his entire works had been kept, nor any complete collection of them ever formed, many pamphlets, and other documents, written by him, were not known, and therefore not inserted. The edition was perhaps as complete as circumstances would then allow; it met the wishes of the Connection, and gratified Mr. Wesley’s friends; and the whole was sold in the course of a few years. With regard to the edition now before the reader, — which is denominated the "third," and is said to have received "the last corrections of the author," — it may be requisite to state, that two objects have been kept in view: The formation of a pure text of Mr. Wesley’s original writings; and a complete collection of them. To obtain these, no exertion has been spared. Of all his larger works Mr. Wesley left copies in his private library, containing corrections in his own handwriting. These corrections are now published for the first time; and every separate work has been carefully collated throughout with copies of different editions which were printed during the author’s life. That no literal or verbal inaccuracies have escaped detection is not pretended. A late writer, who was long practiced in typography, has remarked, that "absolute correctness in printing is perhaps unattainable;" and that "those are to be the most commended who come the nearest to it." In a few instances, it has been perceived, letters have been broken, or drawn out, after the sheets were put to press; but nothing of the kind, it is believed, has occurred, so as to mislead the reader, or to render the author’s meaning uncertain. It is not uncommon, in reprinting, the works of deceased authors, to make occasional alterations, according to the views and taste of the person to whom the correction of the press is intrusted: A practice which cannot be too strongly reprobated, In many instances, to altar the style or sentiments of a deceased writer, especially without acknowledgment, is a far greater crime than that of violating the sanctity of his tomb. No such liberty has been taken with a single sentence of Mr. Wesley’s works.

It would not have been difficult, indeed, to render many passages in them more conformable to the rules of modern grammar; but this would have been to deprive them of one of their peculiarities, in which also they resemble the productions of the most eminent men among his contemporaries.

Every effort has been made to include the whole of Mr. Wesley’s original writings in the present edition. It contains upwards of twenty pamphlets, more than five hundred letters, and a large number of other documents, that were never embodied in any former collection of his works; and several of them are of superior interest and importance. Many of the letters are of great value; and the rest will serve to show the bent of the writer’s mind, and the nature and extent of his correspondence; while, at the same time, they contain hints and allusions which serve to illustrate the history of Methodism in different places. In the last volume are given a list of the prose works which Mr. Wesley abridged from various authors, and another of the poetical publications of the two brothers. They exhibit the astonishing mass of information which the Founder of Methodism placed within the reach of the common people; and will assist those persons who wish to form a complete collection of the works which received his sanction. The prefaces connected with them, and which are here given entire, constitute an important part of his instructive writings. These lists may not be absolutely perfect. It is possible that some future editor may discover both original publications of Mr. Wesley, and tracts abridged by him from the writings of other men, which are at present unknown; but nothing has been overlooked through inattention.

Judging from internal evidence, the following tracts are believed not to have been originally written by Mr. Wesley; but as the means of ascertaining their authors were not at hand, they have been again inserted in his works: — "A Roman Catechism, with a Reply thereto;" (Vol. X., p. 86;) "The Origin of Image-Worship among Christians; "(Ibid., p.175;) and "Directions concerning Pronunciation and Gesture." (Vol. XIII., p. 518.) Much of the "Treatise on Baptism" (Vol. X., p. 188) is copied from a tract which was written by his father.

Mr. Wesley published a few of his tracts under different titles; and lest any persons should suppose that they are not inserted in this edition, because some of the titles do not there occur, it may be proper to state, that the pamphlet entitled, "Cautions and Directions given to the greatest Professors in the Methodist Societies, 1762," was afterwards incorporated in the "Plain Account of Christian Perfection;" (Vol. XI., p. 427;) that the "Plain Account of Genuine Christianity, 1761," often reprinted, — which is perhaps the most beautiful of all Mr. Wesley’s tracts, — forms the conclusion of his "Letter to Dr. Middleton;" (Vol. X., p. 67;) and that "The Dignity of Human Nature, 1786," is the first chapter of "The Doctrine of Original Sin," in answer to Dr. Taylor. (Vol. IX., p. 196.)

To the uniform edition of his works which Mr. Wesley published, he appended translations of the: greater part of the classical quotations with which they abound. This example has been followed upon the present occasion. His own translations are preserved; and when he has given none, the best that could be obtained from other writers haven adopted. The quotations themselves, which are sometimes given in an accommodated form, have been carefully verified. In a few instances short notes are given at the foot of the page, where the subject seemed to require some elucidation. It would have been easy to increase both their number and length; but it was felt that there would be an impropriety in loading the volumes with such explanations as ought rather to be sought in biographical and historical compilations.

As Mr. Wesley’s works are of a very miscellaneous character, a copious Index is indispensable in order to their general utility as books of reference. This also has been attempted; and no small amount of time and labor has been expended upon it. Every subject of importance, and every person and place of any note, mentioned in these admirable volumes, it is presumed, may now be referred to without difficulty.

While every attempt has been made to render this edition worthy of the distinguished author, and of the Connection of which he was the Founder, justice requires that the liberal encouragement which has been given to it should be acknowledged. The number of subscribers has regularly increased from the publication of the first volume; and, notwithstanding the agricultural and commercial distress which so generally prevails, two thousand copies of the work are now in circulation: A cheering proof of the esteem in which Mr. Wesley’s incomparable writings are holden, and of the respect which is cherished for the talents and virtues of that apostolic man. It is a favorable circumstance, that Mr. Wesley’s works are completed precisely at the time when his Life by the Rev. Richard Watson has made its appearance. In that very instructive biography Mr. Wesley’s doctrinal views are well explained, and the peculiarities of his character and conduct are defended with admirable ability and effect.

In publishing this edition of Mr. Wesley’s works, it is presumed that the Methodist Connection has only in part discharged a debt which has long been due to his memory. That debt will never be fully canceled, until the tracts which he abridged from other writers shall be republished; and especially until a uniform edition of his poetical works, and those of his gifted brother, shall be given to the world. In addition to the volumes of hymns which they published, and many of which have long been out of print, Mr. Charles Wesley left in manuscript five quarto volumes of hymns on the Four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, revised for publication with the greatest care, both by himself and his brother, besides several other volumes of miscellaneous poetry; the whole of which are distinguished by his characteristic elegance and strength, and especially by a spirit of fervent piety. These compositions have lately become the property of the Methodist Conference, by purchase from his heir, and, with those which are already before the world, form such a body of devotional poetry as the Christian church has never seen.

The number of Mr. Wesley’s publications may well excite surprise, when viewed in connection with his incessant traveling, his uninterrupted ministerial labors, and the nature and extent of his pastoral cares. The works of such men as Mr. Baxter and Bishop Taylor are more voluminous than his original compositions; but those distinguished men were compelled to spend the greater part of their lives in retirement: Whereas Mr. Wesley’s life was one of the greatest activity. He published more books, traveled more miles, and preached more sermons, than any other Minister of his age; and the entire history of human nature does not furnish a higher example of laborious diligence in the service of God and man.

His style bears a strong resemblance to that of Addison; and for terseness, perspicuity, simplicity, and force, has perhaps never been surpassed. He regarded "a great book as a great evil;" and in all his publications, whether original or adopted, aimed at brevity. By this means he saved his own time and that of his reader, and secured the sale of his works among the poor: For, unlike those writers who are authors by profession, he has distinctly stated, that he never published anything for the sake of pecuniary advantage; but simply to defend the truth, or to convey instruction.

The presumed "ignorance" of Mr. Wesley’s societies has often been a subject of allusion, and of illiberal remark: But the fact is, that the greater part of the common people of England were left with scarcely any knowledge either of religion or of letters. He taught them the nature and necessity of Christian piety; and at the same time made provision for their intellectual improvement. To explain and enforce practical godliness was his great concern; but in subordination to this, he labored to excite a taste for elegant literature, and supplied persons in comparative poverty with the means of obtaining useful knowledge in its various branches. It will be perceived that he published grammars of five different languages; a compendium of logic; a selection of elegant moral poetry; a concise history of England, and of the Christian church; a system of natural philosophy; and a commentary on the entire Scriptures. By more than half a century he anticipated the laudable exertions which are now in progress to promote the general instruction of the community. The cheap and useful literature of the present day, in the shape of popular "Libraries," is an imitation, whether designedly or not, of his "Christian Library," and of the other works just specified. Modern compilers have few difficulties to surmount. They can readily avail themselves of the improvements of science, and of that appetite for knowledge which is excited by the labors of the "schoolmaster." Mr. Wesley had to create that appetite; and he had to create it in a people deeply sunk in ignorance, and addicted to brutal habits. His "Christian Library" was a noble effort to render available to the spiritual interests of the people in general, the scarce and valuable works of voluminous and learned authors. The historical and scientific compilations which he published were adapted to the wants of a people who had already begun to read and to think; and show that, in his apprehension, there is a close connection between useful knowledge and vital godliness. Unhappily, some of the cheap publications of the present day contain sentiments unfavorable to religion, morality, and social order; whereas the whole of his publications are at once designed and calculated, not only to improve the understanding, but also to promote the love of God and man. They inculcate rational and scriptural piety, universal benevolence, and the purest loyalty and patriotism.

To young persons who are studying the arts of composition and correct reasoning, Mr. Wesley’s original works will ever be of inestimable value; as a record also of the rise and progress of that revival of true religion which distinguished the eighteenth century, and from which such important results have arisen, they possess a deep and a permanent interest; but their chief excellence consists in an exhibition of Christianity in its spirituality and power, and of the scriptural method of obtaining it. They call the attention of professing Christians from the vanities of the world, and from a religion of mere form, to the "pearl of great price," — that "kingdom of God," which "is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

Thomas Jackson.
London, May 16th, 1831.

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Chicago: John Wesley, Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition, ed. Thomas Jackson in Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872), Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: Wesley, John. Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition, edited by Thomas Jackson, in Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition, London, Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Wesley, J, Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition, ed. . cited in 1872, Collected Works of John Wesley, Preface to the Third Edition, Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from