Monday, July 6, 2009


Book Title:
The John Wesley Code: Finding a Faith that Matters, 211 pages, 2008

Author: Dr James Stuart

Publisher: Philip Garside Publications LTD, New Zealand.

Review by Dr L. Kadenge

I have read several books written about John Wesley (JW) but this one has captivated my imagination to the extend that I could not put it down. Most of the things known about JW are in this book. The uniqueness of this book is in the fact that James Stuart looks at JW’s special and unique contribution to the eighteenth century revival which gave birth to Methodism. Wesley’s major contribution was his praxis. He earned his achievements. His experience was his teacher.

Though the past was very important to JW he did not let it obscure his goal of organizing his movement. The important thing which he did that became his anchor was what I am calling Literature Review (L.R.). Any worthwhile thesis has to have a substantial L.R. Wesley excelled in this sphere. He was widely read. He read most of the works that mattered to his spiritual growth and was able though, to keep his head above the influences from what he read. He read like someone who knew what he wanted. Once something was not in line with his focus he discarded it. The good thing though, was that he knew what he did not want to follow. That which was in line with his goal he perfected. This is why he could relate with the Moravians and even adopt some of their spiritual practices but broke with them when it came to issues that stifled his progress and his goal. That which struck a code in him he kept for future reference.

JW was not satisfied with little faith. He indeed was a giant. He expected much and he got much. His followers had to practice their faith. Indeed he kept on the heels of his preachers from whom he demanded the best.

What comes out clearly in this book is that for JW Christian life is lived for others. Like Christ who laid down his life for the world, so JW’s parish was the world. JW encouraged Methodists to earn as much as they could, save as much as they could and give as much as they could. He was an example. He devoted much to the work he was doing. He did not have the comfort of staying in one place for long. Itinerancy became his watch word. He traveled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom until his health could not allow.

Discouragements were faced squarely. He fought the waves of discontent with tenacity. He would look for opportunities and move on like things were normal. As his movement grew necessity became the mother of invention. Because the movement was growing preachers were introduced. Leaders of the movement both at home and abroad had to be ordained at some point to carter for the growing work even in he United States of America.

The genius of JW came in handy as he managed successfully his Methodist movement which effectively became a church within a church in his life time. While most structures were in place to establish a separate Church JW died a priest of the Anglican Church. On the other hand the connexion was operating effectively with its conference and leadership in place. The movement nature of Methodism was necessary because it was designed to bring the necessary change or UK would have experienced a catastrophic revolution. JW thwarted that revolution.

The Industrial Revolution in the UK had brought in untold suffering. The enclosure acts which pushed many rural folks into towns brought untold suffering to the new urbanites. JW came in handy to carter for the needs of the dispossessed whom the official Church of England had no concern for. The Methodist movement became the place for all and sundry. Orphanages, clinics and schools for the less privileged were established to carter for the disadvantaged. No sooner had this been done the poor multiplied. JW vowed to meet these challenges. Because of his concern for the down trodden JW came to the aide of William Wilberforce in his fight against slavery. Wilberforce was a Methodist whose fight resonated with JW’s.

Providence was another watch word of JW. Though he was charting new waters he relied heavily on the early Church practices. Jesus’ disciples brought their goods together to share and for JW that was something to emulate according to the prevailing circumstances. JW was not someone to give up easily. He persevered even in the most difficult circumstances. If it meant running away to save his life he did, not in capitulation but for the sake of what was ahead of him. Being banned from preaching in the Church of England did not dissuade him from preaching more. It was like he was given a new lease of life. Out door preaching became normal practice because of necessity.

JW did not want his weaknesses to blur his work. He fell and rose. He did not claim to be perfect but he strove for perfection. His method of leadership may not have been the best but it ushered in a new era. By grace he was saved from infancy to his death.

Indeed James Stuart is right, “Methodists need a new appreciation of Wesley’s vision.” Yes, “Methodism is waning and membership is declining,” in the western world but it can learn from other parts of the world where Methodism is growing in leaps and bounds. The reason for this growth is that according to JW the Church is there for the community. A church which is concentrating on its existence is bound to wound up. A church that will have long life is the one which exists for others. Love God and others and the church will not go wrong. Thanks James.