Last year, I did a ten-city tour of Great Britain in connection with a newly published book. For my morning reading, I brought along The Journal of John Wesley, a day-by-day account of the indefatigable evangelist. Some mornings I read of Wesley's journey to a town like Bristol or Dudley that I would visit that very evening.
Oh, what a difference, though!
I rode in a comfortable car and spoke at ticketed evening events before friendly audiences. John Wesley rode a horse through rain and snow, spoke four or five times a day to huge crowds in open fields, and faced angry opponents who often greeted him with profanity and stones.
I finished Wesley's Journal impressed with his physical endurance, his austere lifestyle, and his absolute devotion to the clusters of believers springing up all over Britain. But I could not help noting Wesley's lack of appreciation for the beauties and cultural riches that abound in that island nation.
Gazing at a lovely flower garden, he quickly demurred, "What can delight always but the knowledge and love of God?" He toured one of England's historic great houses and noted, "How little a time will it be before the house itself, yea, the earth shall be burned up!" And after marveling at the talents of a blind organist he added, "But what is he the better for all this, if he is still 'without God in the world'?"
Even the British Museum failed to make an impression. After remarking on its collections, Wesley wrote, "But what account will a man give to the judge of the quick and dead for a life spent in collecting all these?"
In short, Wesley viewed the common graces of beauty and culture with an attitude approaching disdain. More than once I wrote in the margin, "Lighten up, John!" (But by the standards ...