Book Review: The Sermons of John Wesley by Kenneth Collins and Jason Vickers

1

The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey is quite possibly the best compilation of Wesley sermons to date.  Yes I know, that’s a rather grand claim, and I’ve been hesitant to give this text that type of praise.  However, I’m failing to find any other way to describe the job that Kenneth J. Collins and Jason E. Vickers have done with this new collection.  Now before I continue, you may be wondering why in the world you need another collection of Wesley sermons to stack on your bookshelf.  John Wesley compiled his own sermons, so how could Collins and Vickers trump Wesley himself?  Well let me tell you, this new assembly of sermons is not just a great addition to the Wesleyan corpus, but a necessary resource for anyone searching for a deeper understanding of the Christian faith or John Wesley’s theology in general.  Masterfully organized and easily accessible, Collins and Vickers have produced a work that will lead the way for the next generation, eager to experience the holy love of God.  John Wesley’s life goal in publishing his sermons was to pass on the genius of the Methodist life, faith, and practice. In this particular collection, Collins and Vickers took every step to insure that Wesley’s legacy lives on.  With that being said, I want to provide five critical points on why this specific compilation stands out from it’s predecessors, and just why this text belongs in your library.

1. Refreshing Arrangement: An Invitation to Experience the Holy Love of God

In what is probably the most important feature of the text, Collins and Vickers have shed the common tendency to present Wesley’s sermons in chronological order.  Most likely, if you pick up your older edition of Wesley sermons, you’ll notice that they appear in the order Wesley wrote them.  Former collections simply display the sequential manner in which Wesley developed his theology over time and how he experienced the grace of God in his life. This new collection has been intentionally ordered to reflect a Wesleyan understanding of the way of salvation or the ordo salutis in particular. In reading Wesley’s sermons, the reader is no longer asked to survey Wesley’s personal chronology or biography, but is invited to engage the timeless truths held within the sermons themselves.  With the person of Wesley in the background, the sermons work as “evocative tools, as engaging instruments of transformation, in other words, as suitable and lively means of grace.” Personally, I’ve read all of these sermons before, but reading them in the order they’re presented here allowed me to claim the truths of Wesley’s sermons as my own.

2. The Sermon on the Mount: A More Complete View of Wesley’s Theological Ethic

Wesley’s series on the Sermon on the Mount is arguably the best resource available to comprehend his theological ethic.  This new collection includes the entire series and ultimately displays what form the Christian faith should take, on both personal and social levels.  By reading the series in it’s sum, the reader will have a first hand insight into the idea of the moral law, which shines through in much of Wesley’s theology.  Very quickly, one will see the holy law of love that works in the Old Testament, New Testament, and continues to work today.  It is difficult to find a more comprehensive presentation of ethical treatise in Wesley’s writing than in his Sermon on the Mount series.  I am thrilled to see that Collins and Vickers have included these magisterial works in their entirety.

3. Challenges to the Christian Life: Real Faith in the Midst of a Fallen World

In my personal study of John Wesley, I have noticed a common tendency in collections such as this, to simply discard Wesley’s commentary on challenges to the Christian life.  Previous editions of Wesley’s sermons ignore writings that depict what may prove to be for some believers, “the darker, uncomfortable, and distressing aspects of a flesh and blood Christian journey.”  This regular omission is perhaps the greatest weakness in previous sermon compilations.  By making this fatal error of omission, the reader is left with is a rather overwhelming, sometimes disheartening, and relatively incomplete picture of the Christian life.  It is no wonder that many question if the faith that Wesley describes is just moonlight and roses, let alone even attainable in a world marked by sin.  Thankfully, Collins and Vickers include sermons that offer a painstakingly realistic picture of what Christian formation looks like in the midst of challenges, obstacles, and life in a fallen world.

4. Introductory Comments: Bridging the Centuries Between Wesley and Contemporary Christianity

Wesley’s sermons were written some 200+ years ago.  After wading through Wesley’s 18th Century English, the reader still has to deal with the fact that these sermons were written in a specific time, in a particular place, and for a certain people group.  Luckily, Collins and Vickers provide introductory comments before each sermon.  Short and succinct, these introductory remarks bridge the gap between Wesley and contemporary Christianity.  I have found this small addition to be extremely helpful, in that it has allowed me to better understand where Wesley was coming from, and how the truths of the sermons are now guiding my own Christian journey.

5. The Right Feel

In an age that is increasingly “going digital,” the print version of The Sermons of John Wesley has a perfect feel and makes it worth the price of purchase.  Now for many, this may not be very important, and it really is a secondary concern to the aforementioned notes.  However, if one is going to take the time to read through this rather weighty collection, especially in paper form, it is always a plus to have a book that feels comfortable in your hands.

Collins and Vickers have truly done a fine job putting this new compilation together.  Being a student of Wesley’s work, I greatly recommend The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey, to anyone searching for a deeper understanding of the Christian faith, the magnificent work of God in our lives, or John Wesley’s theology in general.

SHARE

Dan Wells is currently working on his Ph.D. in American Religious History at the Florida State University. He serves as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Hosford, FL. You can follow him on Twitter @TheRealDanWells and check out his personal blog at whatsyourlegacy.wordpress.com.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY