“Do no harm. Do all the good you can. Stay in love with God.”
I like John Wesley. I like him a lot. He was an English theologian and evangelist who came to America and became the leader of the revival movement known as Methodism. I like him because he was an abolitionist when few were. He also loved the poor and sick, promoting social reforms to help them. He was a vegetarian who advocated a plant-based diet, but he never made diet a moral requirement. He did not dogmatize it or push it on others because legalism was not a part of his theology. Love and compassion were his motivations.
Given his compassion for animals, Wesley supported animal welfare and caring for the environment. He was likewise concerned with personal health, stressing the importance of a proper diet, good hydration, regular exercise in fresh air, adequate rest, and responsible life choices. He made it clear that God desired health for all and encouraged people to care for their whole person.
Wesley combined theology and science to address the ills people faced in his day. Healthcare was certainly limited then, and he opposed medical doctors who were driven by greed and profit. He was suspicious of chemical drugs. He understood that science was susceptible to error and needed improvements. In helping others, he did not take a single-solution approach but offered a variety of natural and medical treatments, including the latest medical advances of his day. Though he embraced the authority of nature and natural health principles as promoted by Scripture, Wesley included in these principles medical treatments that proved to be safe and effective. Because he believed God valued life, care for both self and neighbor were deeply embedded in Wesley’s theology. He recognized that good medicine can keep people alive, so taking care of ourselves may mean taking conventional treatments. He considered faith and good science friends, not enemies.
I also like Wesley because while he valued freedom, he emphasized its relation to love. He maintained that such freedom is not liberty to do whatever one wants without restraint. Since a God of love gives us freedom to respond, Wesley considered God to be persuasive, not coercive. If we follow freedom’s relation to love, we will discover how to make sense of God’s call on our lives. Unfortunately, everything has become deeply politicalized these days, and we find ourselves faced with various pressures. If freedom is related to love, we should value the protection of civil liberties, allowing people to make their own best decisions for their lives.
Wesley stood for love and relational motivation. People today put a low priority on love and compassion for others and would benefit from learning more about Wesley’s perfection of love. As Christians, we should be especially mindful of others, pursuing lives that spill over with love and compassion for them. Otherwise, we are not truly fostering a world suitable for others’ well-being.
I find that John Wesley’s wholistic approach to health, science, and holy living was revolutionary for his day. He was a genius at reasoning through controversial issues and pursuing truth in compassionate ways. While he understood that modern science was not infallible, he rejected nonsensical faith. Perhaps there is something we can learn from John Wesley in today’s challenging times.
Craig Ashton Jr.