This is probably a rather an unusual post for me, but I recently made a fascinating discovery. Among a crate of books at work, I found a 1791 copy of Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ published by John Wesley. I had no idea that Wesley had published such a thing, but a google search brought up some interesting information, including this fascinating article on the influence of some of the early Eastern Fathers on him. This may all be common knowledge to some, but it was fascinating news to me. I have known that the Methodist tradition is closer to Orthodoxy than Calvinism is, and this gives some idea why. Anyway, this morning I pulled the book out again and spent my lunchtime reading and transcribing what Wesley has to say about spiritual reading which forms the preface to this book. It strikes me as eminently sound and sensible advice that could easily have been written by an early Cistercian or an Orthodox monastic…
I. As it is impossible for any one to know the usefulness of this treatise, till he has read it in such a manner as it deserves; instead of heaping up commendations of it, which those who have read it do not want, and those who have not will not believe; I have transcribed a few plain directions how to read this (or indeed any other religious book) with improvement.
II. Assign some stated time every day for this pious employment. If any indispensable business unexpectedly robs you of your hour of retirement, take the next hour for it. When such large portions of each day are so willingly bestowed on bodily refreshments, can you scruple allotting some little time daily for the improvement of your immortal soul?
III. Prepare yourself for reading by purity of intention, whereby you singly aim at your soul’s benefit: and then, in a short ejaculation, beg God’s grace to enlighten your understanding, and dispose your heart for receiving what you read; and that you may also know what he requires of you, seriously resolve to execute his will when known.
IV. Be sure to read not cursorily and hastily; but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper intervals and pauses that you may allow time for the enlightenings of Divine Grace. Stop every now and then to recollect what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice. Further, let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. It shows a vitiated palate, to taste of many dishes without fixing upon, or being satisfied with any; not but that it will be of great service to read over and over those passages, which more nearly concern yourself, and more closely affect your own practice or inclinations: especially if you add a particular examination upon each.
V. Labour for a temper correspondent to what you read: otherwise it will prove empty and unprofitable, while it only enlightens your understanding, without influencing your will, or inflaming your affections. Therefore intersperse here and there pious aspirations to God, and petitions for his grace. Select also any remarkable sayings or advices, treasuring them up in your memory to ruminate and consider on; which you may either in time or need draw forth as arrows from a quiver against temptations, against this or that vice which you are more particulary addicted to; or make use of as incitements to humility, patience, the love of God, or any other virtue.
VI. Conclude all with a short ejaculation to God; that he would preserve and prosper this good seed sown in your heart, that it may bring forth its fruit in due season. And think not this will take up too much of your time, for you can never bestow it to so good advantage.
John Wesley, “Preface,” iii-iv. (I updated the spelling).