John Wesley



Portrait of John WesleyJohn Wesley, founder of Methodism, was a rhetorician, both in practice and theory. He created a system of reading, writing, and speaking that violated prevailing 18th century practices that promoted flamboyance and elitism in public speaking. Wesley, instead, advocated egalitarianism and natural speech. He empowered women and non-educated men to preach and encouraged literacy among the lower and middle classes (Burton, 2001).

In his pamphlet on Directions concerning pronunciation and gesture (1749), Wesley advocated naturalness. He advised speakers not to speak too loud, too low, too fast, too slow, not to mumble, and not to speak in an uneven voice or with an unnatural tone. He recommended that people speak as they would in conversation. He also recommended that speakers “move in a natural and graceful manner” and that they be aware that “it is the face which gives the greatest life to action”(1841, 13, 518-527).

In a letter to an American Methodist preacher, John King, Wesley warned:

I advised you once, and you took it as an affront: Neveretheless I will do it once more. Scream no more, at the peril of your soul. God now warns you by me, whom he has set over you. Speak as earnestly as you can; but do not scream. Speak with all your heart; but with a moderate voice. It was said of our Lord, “He shall not cry.” The word properly means, He shall not scream…O John, pray for an advisable and teachable temper! By nature you are very far from it: you are stubborn and headstrong (From: The Works of John Wesley, vol. 12, p. 331).

In 1747 Wesley provided his followers with Rules for preaching, laying out what he takes to be appropriate ways for Methodist preachers to conduct themselves (from Minutes of the Methodist Conferences, Vol 1, 1744-1798). London: Mason, 1862)

  1. Be sure to begin and end at the time appointed.
  2. Sing no hymns of your own composing.
  3. Endeavour to be serious, weighty, and solemn in your whole deportment before the congregation.
  4. Choose the plainest texts you can.
  5. Take care not to ramble from your text, but to keep close to it, and make our what you undertake.
  6. Always suit your subject to your audience.
  7. Beward of allegorizing or spiritualizing too much.
  8. Take care of anything awkward or affected, either in your gesture or pronunciation.
  9. Tell each other, if you observe anything of this kind.

Writings of John Wesley, arranged chronologically.

Wesley, John. (1831) The works of John Wesley. Ed. thomas Jackson. 3rd edition. Wesley's collected his Works together into a 32 volume publication between 1771–74. These have been frequently reprinted in editions varying greatly in the number of volumes.

Wesley, John (1749) Directions concerning pronunciation and gesture.

Writings about the rhetoric of John Wesley, arranged alphabetically

Burton, Vicki (2001). John Wesley and the liberty to speak: the rhetorical and literacy practices of early Methodism. college Compositon and Communication 53, 65-91.

Green, V.H.H., (1987) John Wesley. London and New York: University Press of America.

Web sources on John Wesley.


Religious writings: