Scripture References, Allusions, and Echoes in Works by Charles and John Wesley -- By: Samuel J. Rogal

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 25:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: Scripture References, Allusions, and Echoes in Works by Charles and John Wesley
Author: Samuel J. Rogal

Scripture References, Allusions, and Echoes
in Works by Charles and John Wesley

Samuel J. Rogal

Samuel J. Rogal is Chair Emeritus of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts at Illinois Valley Community College in La Salle, Illinois.

I. The Problem: To What Extent Did the Wesleys Rely upon Scripture?

“There can hardly be a single paragraph anywhere in Scriptures,” wrote Henry Bett, more than five decades ago in his survey of the literary and religious qualities of Methodist hymnody, “that is not somewhere reflected in the writings of the Wesleys.”1 Although such a statement may appear, on the surface, as an oversimplification of the obvious, it clearly identifies the total extent of the issue, while, at the same time, it begs for a transference from the general to the specific: To what extent and actual degree did Charles Wesley—in his hymns, secular verse, sermons, and prose narratives—and John Wesley—in his sermons, poetic translations and revisions, prose tracts, correspondence, and journals—employ Scripture as a means of reinforcing their own definitions of and commitments to their particular phase of the eighteenth-century evangelical revival in the British Isles (and elsewhere)?

For scholars whose pursuits include the relationships between general literature and the biblical influences upon certain writers of that literature, the popular assumption announcing that the two Wesleys possessed complete command of the sound and the sense of Holy Scripture requires little in the way of further discussion; that the sound and the sense of Scripture permeated their private and published works prompts even less of a need for additional commentary or analysis. What remains, therefore, focuses upon a perceived need, insofar as limited space will allow, to view specific strands and fragments of scriptural references, allusions, and echoes residing within the mass of poetry and prose of the Wesleys so that students and scholars can identify certain of the principles and processes employed by each of the brothers in their efforts to

promote an understanding of the most influential of all texts fundamental to the Judaic-Christian tradition. After all, the Wesleys stood not alone in sharing with John Milton the concise but sharp view on the necessity, through Scripture, to “assert Eternal Providence, And justify the ways of God to men.”

In assessing the actual role of and contribution of general knowledge to the advancement of his evangelical mission, John Wesley placed the command of Scripture at the forefront of his list. All knowledge, he consistently maintained, proceed...

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