Apr
17

John Wesley and the Methodists: The Unity at the Heart of All Religions

By

The Unity at the Heart of All Religions

Another of the articles written by Anne Evans for the Theosophical Quarterly, which surfaced after the publication of my biography, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John and Evans and his wife, Margaret.

In this article, as in several covered in my book (On Norse Mythology, The Eastern Church, The Foundation of the Moravian Church and The Bhagavad-Gita) and others discovered after the book’s publication (George Fox, Quaker, and The Snake Dance, A Religious Ceremonial) Anne Evans was developing the theosophical theme of the essential unity at the heart of all religions.

Her article, John Wesley and the Methodists, was published in July of 1909. Although Anne Evans knew that many books had already been written about “John Wesley and the great Methodist movement” her intention was to “draw special attention…to the tenets of Methodism which were most markedly theosophic.

One of the Rare Women of All Time

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life: http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life: http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/

John Wesley was born in England in 1703 and died in 1791. Anne Evans declared that he “was mainly the child of his mother, Susannah Wesley, one of the rare women of all time, in whom a tendency to ponder deeply on spiritual matters, to judge independently and then stand steadfast, was a characteristic both inherited and early developed.” Her father, a prominent clergyman, had been “severely persecuted for his refusal to conform to the established (Anglican) church.

Susannah established the routines of family life for the eight Wesley children, starting with one hour of meditation daily, solitary except for the very youngest. This practice, according to Anne Evans, “developed a beautiful power of concentration” in all the children, so that Mrs. Wesley was able to teach each one to read in a few days. “She began always, on the morning of the fifth birthday, which was solemnly set aside and guarded from interruption, that the alphabet might be mastered before evening, once and forever!

Strange Happenings at the Wesley House

Two happenings during John’s childhood influenced the man he grew up to be. The first was “an almost miraculous escape from the burning rectory.” This “gave him a singular sense of divine immanence and protection, which perhaps fathered the vein of credulity, the faith in powers unseen, always a striking factor in the man’s temperament.” This characteristic was accentuated by a series of curious phenomena, which came to be known as “the Wesley noises,” and which occurred in the Wesley family home while John was still a boy. These happenings were described in letters from various members of the family, from neighbors and from servants.

The noises continued for a period of two months, were usually heard in the late afternoon or evening, and began with a sound of whistling wind about the house, with a clattering of the windows and a ringing of all the brass and iron in the room. There were rappings which grew louder and more insistent when any effort was made to drown them by a counter-irritant of noise…doors were clapped or thrown open; the mastiff barked loudly at it the first day, but ever afterward ran trembling and whining for human protection … They dubbed it “old Jeffrey” and treated it with a bored toleration, even when it declared Jacobite propensities by never allowing the King to be prayed for, or when it upheaved the bed on which two of the daughters were card-playing … The phenomena were all trivial enough, seemingly with small purpose or result yet as they undoubtedly established faith in themselves as marvels of the supernatural world, they may be accredited with serving the same purpose as the phenomena of the early theosophist, or as other miraculous signs vouchsafed to prophets and leaders. They helped break down the tendency to incredulity and skepticism which John Wesley shared as a child of his age, and opened a channel through which much other worldly wisdom might freely enter.” (emphasis mine.)

In the next blog, we’ll follow John Wesley’s education at a prestigious boarding school and Oxford University, and his ill-fated years in the American colonies.

(All quotes are from Anne Evans’ article John Wesley and the Methodists, in the Theosophical Quarterly of July, 1909 Vol.7, No.1, P. 50-58)

Comments

  1. Dan Smith says:

    Hi Barbara

    I found this article enjoyable and informative. As to the question you posed,”What do you feel is the unity at the heart of all religions?”, I believe the answer is the potential for spiritual enlightenment, though routinely denied by most western churches, and blasphemous to Islam. For me Jesus’ admonition to remove the plank from your eyes, to removing the bushel basket that covers your light, to the “…this and more ye shall do”, or “seek ye first the kingdom…” statements; i find the quotes of Jesus riddled (so to speak) with enlightenment references.

    These seem perfectly mirrored in the Dhammapada: “Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not. The heedless are as if dead already.”

    The Upanishads: “You cannot see That which is the Seer of seeing; you cannot hear That which is the Hearer of hearing; you cannot think of That which is the Thinker of thought; you cannot know That which is the Knower of knowledge. This is your Self, that is within all; everything else but This is perishable.”

    And so on and so on. The Gita, the Tao te Ching , The Ramayana, the Koran, all have this message embedded within their texts – at least in my humble opinion:-)

    Thanks
    Dan

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Thank you for the comment, Dan Smith. Your perception of “the Unity at the Heart of All Religion” seems to be very much in harmony with the discoveries that Anne Evans gave as her reasons for becoming a member of the Theosophical Society in America.
      Barbara

  2. Alana says:

    I so enjoy reading this and miss you and love you so much. Alana

  3. Susan Marinelli says:

    I became a Methodist in 1984 and learned about Wesley. My husband is a life-long Methodist. I wonder how Wesley would react to today’s Book of Discipline that regards “homosexuality as inconsistent with Christian teachings.” We find we cannot support this interpretation and are leaving the church that has always been so open and accepting. Recently Reverend Schafer in PA was defrocked for performing a ceremony of marriage for his son and his son’s partner.
    Biblical writing reflect no words of homosexual condemnation by Jesus and some questionable passages by his followers. It seems to me that Christ and Wesley accepted everyone, especially the disenfranchised. Enough rambling.
    Thanks for the insights.
    Sue

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Susan,
      Thanks for your comment. I, too, have been surprised by the most recent Methodist stands on GLBT matters. John Wesley, in his day, stood so strongly on the side of the rejected and downtrodden and poor. It is hard to imagine that if he were alive today he would be taking a stand in favor of discrimination.

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