This is the second post in a series: “Wesley – The man, the myth, the legend“
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.”
“Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.
“Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. Thy creatures bless and grant that we, may feast in paradise with Thee. Amen.”
People regularly attribute these four quotes to John Wesley. You may have seen them on t-shirts, printed on materials in your church, used them in your sermons, or tweeted them out.
Yet, none of them were written by John Wesley, and there is no record that he said any of them either.
The internet has only helped spread such mis-quotes further. Although we now have better access than ever to historical archives, the abundance of information online leads many of us to trust information that is repeated often and communicated by people we respect. The “set yourself on fire” quote is a particular favorite in the twittersphere due to its length, which is < 140 characters. See the latest tweets and how they all seem to somehow modify this fake quote here.
The above information may make some of you feel the same way you did on the day when your elementary school friend told you that he saw his parents sneak into his room and place a half-dollar under his pillow after losing a tooth.
For consolation, I offer a word from a scholar who has spent his life debunking Wesley myths and providing the church and academy with new insights about the great man of faith. Heitzenrater has written, “Many of the quotations cited to Wesley simply sound like something he might have said or written, rather than being something he actually expressed.”
See, even the expert cuts you some slack for believing them.
Mis-quotes like the ones above may not be true in the historical sense, but often they align with principles found throughout Wesley’s writings that we can apply to our world today. Doing good, being full of passion for the gospel, exhibiting charity to others, and giving blessings for God’s gifts to us are all great things Wesley that Wesley promoted.
Even so, as I mentioned in the first post in this series, we must be wary of re-creating Wesley for our own purposes. Cherry picking quotes from his works—quotes that may be way out of context or even historically inaccurate—are a quick and easy way to fall into this trap.
Below is a portion of an interview I did with Richard Heitzenrater where we discussed his encounters with misinformation associated with Wesley. Here, he discusses some of the most common items he comes across and how he has handled such situations: