Charles Wesley and His Sermons: Newport’s Critical Edition
January 27, 2011 2 Comments
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was a cofounder with his brother John of the Methodist movement within the Church of England. Historiographically playing second fiddle, he nevertheless exercised considerable influence within Methodism and over his brother during his life. However, Charles remained loyal to the Church while John moved in the direction of independence. Both brothers were ubiquitous preachers, giving thousands of sermons in churches, halls and often the open air. The Wesley’s heritage has been written about since their own era to ours and among that corpus exists critical editions of their sermons.
No doubt the current expert on Charles and his preaching is Anglican priest Revd. Professor Kenneth G. C. Newport. Newport’s book on Charles’ sermons, The Sermons of Charles Wesley, A Critical Edition with Introduction and Notes. (Oxford UP, 2001) forms an interesting example of sermon criticism. Early in his career, Charles spoke from notes but gradually ventured to an ex tempore form as his confidence grew.
Mormonism owes much of its early praxis and administrative terminology to the American version of Methodism and Newport’s book proves that Joseph Smith and Methodism are connected on yet another level. Newport’s treatment of 23 Wesley sermons shows a great variety in the nature of existing documents and circumstances of Charles’ sermons which speaks to the same situation in Joseph Smith’s sermon collection. While there are clear similarities, Smith contrasts with Wesley in several important ways. First, Smith virtually never spoke from notes and left no personal base texts. Though Smith often used Bible passages (and in unique ways) he rarely spoke *to* a text whereas Newport’s collection exhibits themed remarks guided by central texts. Also in his later career, Smith spoke to a recurring list of topics and sermons often had planned themes. In contrast to Wesley, Smith with one or two exceptions always spoke extemporaneously.
Newport’s collection takes MS sermon texts and annotates based on other sources in a variorum fashion. Newport eschews the clear text presentation in favor of a facsimile appearance and uses a standard numbered footnote system to explain sermon points or offer historical observations in addition to variant text. Newport’s book is expertly done and offers important insights into Charles and his preaching. My copy was finely produced with sturdy flat boards and good paper. You’ll need your reading glasses here, the 424 pages are dense. An excellent scripture index accompanies the book but the subject index is remarkably poor and is an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise fine volume.
The Sermons of Charles Wesley
Edited by Kenneth G. C. Newport
Hardcover: 424 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 15, 2001)
9.5 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
$225.00 at Amazon.
 Newport recently deciphered Charles’ encoded journal, revealing much about Wesley’s inner life.
 Joseph’s sermons in early years were founded, in good Methodist fashion, in one text or another. His later Ohio performances see him stretching out to subject matter based on his own religious experience.