In December 1963, Wanda Willard Smith became faculty secretary to Albert Outler at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Outler was just gearing up for his role as editor of the four volumes of John Wesley’s sermons in the Bicentennial Edition of Works. A few months into her new role, Outler suggested to Smith that it would be helpful for him to have a compilation of every time that Wesley preached, where we have record of his sermon text. She was happy to take on this task, though she soon discovered the breadth of what was involved. Over time she worked carefully through Wesley’s Journal (in Curnock’s edition), Telford’s eight volumes of Wesley’s Letters, Thomas Jackson’s fourteen volume edition of Wesley’s Works, and a variety of sources for other firsthand accounts of Wesley’s preaching. While a transcript of Wesley’s surviving diaries and one of his sermon registers was included in Curnock’s edition of the Journal, it became clear to Smith that she needed to double check these items in the original manuscripts. She gained indispensable help in this task when Richard Heitzenrater joined the faculty at Perkins, bringing his expertise in Wesley’s diaries and other manuscript materials. Smith continued to work on the sermon register project after Albert Outler’s retirement in 1980, directed by Heitzenrater. She completed a full copy shortly before her own retirement in 1993.
Smith’s initial research predated the availability of personal computers. Thus, it was compiled on individual 5 in. × 8 in. research cards, which grew to nearly 23,000 in number. Toward the end Smith was able to compile this information into a single word-processing file. At the time it was thought that the sermon register might be published in hard copy as part of the Bicentennial edition of Wesley’s Works. So it remained for some time in this file. Recently it was decided that scholarly access to this important resource had been delayed long enough. Randy L. Maddox took on the task of converting the register to a format appropriate for online publication, editing it in current scholarly style, and updating references to reflect the volumes that have appeared in the Bicentennial edition of Wesley’s Works. He was assisted in this task by Jody Belcher, Elizabeth DeGaynor, and Bonnie Scott.
Purpose and Principles Followed in this Compilation
The purpose of this register is to collect every instance of John Wesley’s oral preaching, where we have record of the scripture text on which he based the sermon. Smith also provides basic details about the date and location of each sermon listed when these are available.
In keeping with this purpose, this register does not list every time that we have record of Wesley preaching. There are many mentions of preaching in the Journal, for example, where Wesley does not identify his text (so these instances do not appear in the register). Conversely, we have many records of sermon texts in the diaries and sermon registers that are not found in the Journal. The register draws together the various citations, always identifying the source(s) from which we can identify the sermon text. The Journal is listed as a source alongside the diary or sermon registers only when it also identifies the text.
Smith was intentionally conservative in decisions about what texts to include. For example, while it might be reasonable to assume that Wesley preached on one of the assigned Lessons in the Book of Common Prayer on Sundays, during his stint as a parish priest in Georgia, she includes only those instances where he specifically identifies his text. Similarly, she is careful to distinguish between clear references to the text of a sermon and Wesley’s common practice of describing the response to his sermon in the Journal by quoting a biblical verse. For good example, see June 26–27, 1760 in the Journal: Wesley’s reference to 1 Cor. 12:31on the first day may hint as his text, but it is not confirmed in the sermon register (while Jer. 8:22 on the next day is confirmed), so it is not included.
Many of Wesley’s references to his sermon texts are ambiguous, particularly in the Journal. Rather than citing or quoting the verse, he gives only the topic (like ‘preaching Christ crucified’). Where his typical verse—at the time—for this topic can be clearly established from other sources, it is included. There is also occasional ambiguity when Wesley quotes the verse on which he preached, if the line appears in more than one place, such as in the Synoptic Gospels. Here again, Smith draws upon a broader range of evidences to identify the most likely text.
Wesley often references a single scripture verse as a text, even when it is clear that he preached on the broader surrounding text. This register replicates Wesley’s narrower identification. At the same time, we have modernized his text references in two ways, for the convenience of readers: (1) we use the most common current abbreviations for the names of biblical books, rather than reproducing slavishly Wesley’s (sometimes varying) abbreviations; (2) we use the current preferred form of formatting chapter and verse references with a colon, while Wesley typically used a comma (e.g., Heb. 1,6).
Short identifications of the places where Wesley preached are included in the register. There is an accompanying ‘Site Locator’ file that gives more complete details, including a link to electronic maps. When something significant is known about a site, it is footnoted on the first occurrence of the site in the register. Wesley is typically brief in his own identifications, such as saying he was at ‘Mr Dibble’s’. When it is clear, we identify whether this is a house, a society meeting, a preaching house, etc. If it is unclear, we leave it in Wesley’s shorter form.
Finally, some comments on the relationship between Wesley’s oral preaching and his written sermons. We have some surviving early manuscript sermons that Wesley would have followed closely in his preaching at that time. Likewise, a few of Wesley’s later oral sermon were for special occasions and were published soon after in a form that would closely resemble the oral presentation. But most of Wesley’s published sermons were written specifically for publication as teaching materials. While we indicate in the register (usually on a text’s first appearance) instances where Wesley has a published sermon based the text being cited for his oral preaching, it should be assumed that the oral sermon would have differed to some degree from the printed form (the greater the time differential, the greater the likelihood of difference). For a helpful comparison of one published sermon with a transcript by a listener who heard him preach about the same time on the same text, see Works, 3:290–92. For broader reflections on this topic, see Richard Heitzenrater, “John Wesley’s Principles and Practice of Preaching” (attached to main page)
AV Authorized Version (popularly known as King James Version)
BCP Book of Common Prayer (usually when citing the Psalter)
JW John Wesley
WHS Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society
ad fin[em] placed after a scripture reference; means ‘to the end’ (ad fin Ep = ‘to the end of Epistle’]
etc. placed after a scripture reference; means ‘and following verses’
ult. placed after a scripture reference; means ‘latter part’(ad ult = ‘to the latter part’)
* placed after place reference; see note for 01-03-41
! placed after a scripture reference; see note for 10-19-39
+ placed before or after a scripture reference; see notes for 07-22-39 and 06-13-57
(1) (2) (3) placed after a scripture reference; see note for 12-02-82
Essays by Richard Heitzenrater
Richard P. Heitzenrater, who worked with Wanda Willard Smith in completing the Register, has also agreed to post two of his essays that are pivotal for considering John Wesley’s preaching:
‘John Wesley’s Early Sermons’ Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society 37 (1970): 110–28. (pdf)
‘John Wesley’s Principles and Practice of Preaching’ Methodist History 37 (1999): 89–106. (pdf)