Letter from John Wesley to James Hervey

The appeal to friendship recalls the strong bonds within the Holy Club; the tone of reproach at Hervey’s apparent failures as a correspondent may echo Wesley’s didactic tutorial manner and that imperturbable strength of character aptly expressed by Vivian Green as ‘granite in aspic’.

Letter from John Wesley to James Hervey, Lincoln College, 21 November 1738

John Wesley (1703-91) was elected Fellow of Lincoln in 1726 and remained a Fellow until his marriage in 1751. With his younger brother Charles (1707-88) he gathered a small group of students who were committed to a routine of study, devotional exercises and philanthropy; their disciplined approach earned them mocking nicknames, including ‘the Holy Club’ and ‘Methodists’. James Hervey (1714-58) was one of Wesley’s pupils at Lincoln in the early 1730s, and he was ordained in 1736. Wesley’s restless quest for a sense of peace with God, unfulfilled by the regime of the Oxford Methodists, took him to work as a parish priest and missionary in the new colony of Georgia in 1735, but he returned to England three years later, still unsettled. At a religious meeting in London in May 1738, six months before this letter was written, Wesley experienced an assurance of God’s love and a new understanding of Christianity based on justification by God’s grace, appropriated by faith.  This gave Wesley the message and the confidence to build a movement of spiritual renewal which eventually developed into a worldwide family of Methodist Churches. The themes of vivid religious experience, inner assurance, new life, freedom from fear, a sense of immediate Divine action, an awareness of opposition and a call to commitment are demonstrated in Wesley’s letter to Hervey, with its interweaving of Bible verses and allusions. The appeal to friendship recalls the strong bonds within the Holy Club; the tone of reproach at Hervey’s apparent failures as a correspondent may echo Wesley’s didactic tutorial manner and that imperturbable strength of character aptly expressed by Vivian Green as ‘granite in aspic’.

Wesley’s letter has a particular resonance for me as a life-long Methodist. I was shown the Wesley Room when I came for interview at Lincoln in December 1981, and had tutorials there with Paul Langford as an undergraduate. Returning to Oxford as Superintendent Minister and minister of Wesley Memorial Church in 2008, it was good to reconnect with Lincoln and with its rich history, and to recognise the inspiration in our shared heritage.

The College Archives has seventeen original Wesley Letters. It costs £1,000 to conserve a letter. Please click below if you would like to support conservation efforts. 

 

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