Reading the Works of John Wesley
I often get requests from people about where to find something that John Wesley wrote. This request is usually about a sermon, but sometimes it is also about a letter, a journal entry, or a theological essay.
I thought it might be helpful to point out where Wesley’s written works can be found—both online and in print.
The most easily accessible collections of Wesley’s works are online. Northwest Nazarene University has the largest database. For quick online reference, their collection is the best to draw upon. Most of this material is from the 19th century edition of Wesley’s works (edited by Thomas Jackson). But some of it (e.g., Wesley’s letters) comes from other sources.
The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church has also got a version of Wesley’s sermons available on its website (again, from the Jackson edition). Less well known than these two but invaluable for anyone seriously interested in research into Wesley is Duke Divinity School’s Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition. There is some manuscript material in Duke’s online collection that I don’t believe appears elsewhere—particularly some of the poetry and verse of John and Charles Wesley. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (or CCEL) website also has a good amount of Wesley material available, which can be found in its table of contents at this link.
In print, the authoritative source for Wesley’s works is found in the Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley. This edition of Wesley’s collected works makes up an ongoing series published by Abingdon Press. Eventually, this collection will comprise 34 total volumes. (About 20 of the planned volumes are now in print.) The value of this edition of Wesley’s works cannot be overstated. Upon its completion, it will be the first comprehensive, critical edition of the works of John Wesley ever put in print. And it will set the standard for pastors and academics for the foreseeable future. The bound volumes are pricey (around $50 each) and are mostly of interest to scholars. But I would highly recommend pastors at least purchasing volumes 1-4, which contain Wesley’s sermons.
Another medium people might like to utilize for Wesley’s works is via CD-ROM or other digital computer programs that can be stored on a hard drive. The 19th century Jackson edition of Wesley’s works has shown up in programs of this type from time to time. (It is in the public domain, so anyone can market it in this way.) There was also a CD-ROM edition published of the first few volumes of the Bicentennial edition some years ago. Most computers today will not support the format this CD was put into, though, and I don’t recommend buying used copies of it for this reason. My guess is that digital access will be created in some fashion when the full 34-volume set is completed.
A personal note: I’ve recently published a book review of one of the newest volumes in the Bicentennial edition–the collection of Minutes from the Methodist Conference under Wesley. You can find that book review at this link, and I’ve also posted it on this website under my academic writings. The review appeared in the Wesleyan Theological Journal earlier this year.
When the Bicentennial edition of Wesley’s works is completed, the Wesleyan/Arminian theological tradition will have one of the best scholarly tools imaginable with which to further its theological work. Any serious student of Wesley simply must purchase these volumes. For those who want to draw on Wesley’s theology but don’t see themselves purchasing the full set, I would recommend buying one of the single-volume collections of Wesley’s sermons that is available. The volume from which I teach at Memphis Theological Seminary is the one edited by Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater: John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology. More recently, Kenneth Collins and Jason Vickers have edited their own edition of Wesley sermons.
There are other, older editions of different parts of Wesley’s works that scholars will be familiar with. In the past (and in the absence of a truly comprehensive edition of Wesley’s works), there were a number of sources that students of Wesley used: John Telford’s edition of the Letters, Nehemiah Curnock’s edition of the Journal, and (as already mentioned) Thomas Jackson’s edition of Wesley’s collected works. Edward Sugden also published a widely used two-volume edition of Wesley’s “standard” sermons (a distinction of greater relevance in British Methodism than on this side of the Atlantic). These are all important collections for scholars—particularly since Telford and Jackson contain material not yet published in the Bicentennial edition of Wesley’s works. They are also the editions cited in much previous scholarship in Wesleyan studies, so they’ll have an enduring value for students and scholars. These collections are sometimes available via online used book sites if you really need or want them and do not have access to a theological library.
[Note: A commenter on this post alerted me to my oversight of this one-volume collection of primary sources from Wesley: Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964). Outler put this volume together for Oxford's Library of Protestant Thought series, and a couple of generations of seminary students used it as one of the best resources available for Methodist history and Wesleyan theology. It is still a good volume to have, because of the way in which Outler collects a number of different types of Wesley's writing and arranges them thematically. A sign of its enduring value is the fact that it is still in print almost 50 years after its initial publication.]