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Mysticism

In the 1720s William Law convinced John Wesley that his search for genuine Christianity would be furthered by the writings of such mystics as Mme Guyon, Fénelon and de Renty. Wesley made a thorough study of these and other mystics and was fascinated by their presentation of religion as a quest for perfect love and a personal encounter with the Divine. He later admitted that he had felt their alluring 'enchantment' and had almost been trapped by them. Nevertheless, by 1736 he believed that he had saved his faith from being 'wrecked on the rock' of mysticism. He rejected the mystics' 'refined' form of Christianity, branding them as unhealthily introvertive, self-obsessed and prone to devise 'religions of their own'. He condemned the 'quietism' of much RC mysticism and the obscurity of Protestant mystics such as J. Boehme. Convinced that mysticism 'stabbed Christianity in the vitals', he exposed it wherever he found it, even detecting its 'tincture' in Luther.

However, while rejecting certain of the forms of mysticism, the Wesleys may still have preserved its essence. If Christian mysticism signifies a direct and loving union with God in Christ, it is arguable that the experiential element in their theology promulgated a popularly comprehensible form of 'biblical' mysticism and celebrated it magnificently in their hymns. Moreover, John Wesley continued to commend the lives of de Renty and Mme Guion as edifying reading.

Sources

  • J.A. Faulkner, 'Wesley the Mystic', in in London Quarterly Review, April 1930 pp.145-60
  • Frank Baker, 'John Wesley and a Quaker Mystic', in WHS Proceedings, 26 pp.114-18
  • D. Dunn-Wilson, 'John Wesley's Break with Mysticism Reconsidered', in WHS Proceedings, 35 pp.65-67, 181-84
  • W.R. Cannon, The Theology of John Wesley (Nashville, 1946)
  • M. Schmidt, John Wesley, a theological biography (1962, 1973)
  • D. Dunn Wilson, 'John Wesley, Gregory Lopez and the Marquis de Renty', in WHS Proceedings, 35 pp.181-84
  • R.G. Tuttle, John Wesley, his life and theology (Grand Rapids, 1978)
  • Robert G. Tuttle, Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition (Grand Rapids, 1989)
  • Kenneth J. Collins, 'John Wesley's Assessment of Christian Mysticism', in Lexington Theological Quarterly, vol.28 (1993) pp.299-318

Entry written by: DDW
Category: Subject

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