One of the extraordinary commitments of John Wesley’s leadership of the early Methodist movement was a deep concern for bodily health. It’s a topic that Randy L. Maddox has written about recently in Divinity Magazine, a publication of Duke Divinity School.
Wesley’s popular Primitive Physick, a manual of medical advice and remedies, is probably the best known example of his holistic concern for health of body & soul. But evidence of that commitment shows up in many places in Wesley’s writing.
A great example is Wesley’s Journal entry from December 4, 1746, which reports the Methodists’ establishment of what was the first free pharmaceutical dispensary in London. Check this out (and note that “physic” is an 18th century term for medicine) —
Thursday, December 4. I mentioned to the society my design of giving physic to the poor. About thirty came the next day, and in three weeks about three hundred. This we continued for several years, till, the number of patients still increasing, the expense was greater than we could bear. Meantime, through the blessing of God, many who had been ill for months or years were restored to perfect health.
The very popular (and hence relatively short-lived) London medical dispensary is a testament both to how much Wesley was in tune with the needs of London’s poor and the degree to which the volume of need overwhelmed the local society’s ability to sustain the ministry.
The London medical dispensary is also a reminder that the church once understood healthcare as one of its primary responsibilities. That commitment has been largely lost—although not entirely, as an organization like the Church Health Center here in Memphis, Tennessee, demonstrates well. I recently heard Dr. Scott Morris (who leads the Church Health Center) speak about the church’s calling to healthcare ministries. He pointed out that Jesus’ own ministry was made up of the three activities of preaching, teaching, and healing. Then he said, “So if you want to be a faithful follower of Jesus, you have to do three things: preach, teach, and heal. And you don’t get a pass on the healing! If you ignore that, you’re ignoring 1/3 of the gospel.” That is a thought to chew on—and a wonderful reminder of the gospel’s calling to care for both souls and bodies.
[This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights important themes that emerge in the Journal that John Wesley published throughout his adult life. For other posts in the series, go here.]