I have finally found the context and citation for a Wesley quote I’ve been looking for, for a very long time. It’s the old quote:
Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.
I’ve heard it half-quoted in so many sermons through the years, and I love the essence of the quote. But, I’ve also heard it mangled and clearly misquoted enough times that I wondered if it was really Wesley. And none of the Wesley scholars I knew well enough to ask were ever able to point me to exactly where in the Wesley corpus it appears.
Finally, through the gracious help of a friend, I found it among Wesley’s Letters as cited on Wesley Center Online. The above quote comes from a letter to Alexander Mather dated August 6, 1777. Here is the full letter:
No, Aleck, no! The danger of ruin to Methodism does not lie here. It springs from quite a different quarter. Our preachers, many of them, are fallen. They are not spiritual. They are not alive to God. They are soft, enervated, fearful of shame, toil, hardship. They have not the spirit which God gave to Thomas Lee at Pateley Bridge or to you at Boston. Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.
It’s a sobering letter in context and certainly gives food for thought about the current state of preachers in the United Methodist Church. I can’t help but wonder how many of us, myself included, that Wesley would have considered “fallen” and “not spiritual” by his standards. Makes you wonder. Perhaps what the UM church needs most is a few more hell-shaking preachers. I wonder if they’ll make it through our ordination process.