Devotion and piety

'Spiritual respiration' is the key metaphor in Wesleyan piety. The Holy Spirit breathes 'life' into the soul of the faithful person, who responds by ministering to others and using all the means of grace.

The four elements of prayer, according to John Wesley are 'deprecation, petition, intercession and thanksgiving'. He took seriously St Paul's admonition, 'Pray without ceasing.' Wesley encouraged the 'practice of the presence of God' which Brother Lawrence exemplified and private prayer at regular times, morning and evening. These prayer might follow a set form or they could begin with meditative reading. The Bible, the hymn-book and Kempis's Imitation of Christ were appropriate texts, among others, for this purpose. As aids to devotion Wesley published forms of prayer and extracts from ancient (e.g. 'Macarius the Egyptian') and modern authors (including Henry Scougal, A.H. Francke and Blaise Pascal).

Beginning in 1736, Wesley rejected 'mysticism' as he understood it. The term represented the 'dark' contemplative piety of Johann Tauler and the Theologica Germanica. Contemplation is prayer which does not employ ideas, words or images. Wesley believed that the 'mystics' tended towards pantheism and antinomianism. For him, 'resemblance' between God and the faithful person, not the 'union' of the finite and the Infinite, is the fulfilment of the Christian life. He rejected concepts such as 'absorption', 'deification' and 'equality' between God and perfected individuals and hesitated to use symbolism based on marriage. In later years he spoke appreciatively of William Law and other spiritual writers whom he had earlier upbraided, although he began to criticize Boehme and Swedenborg.

  • Gordon S. Wakefield, Methodist Devotion: the spiritual life in the Methodist tradition 1791-1945 (1966)

Entry written by: JCE
Category: Subject
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