English Spirituality

In this episode, we discuss pastors and writers who influenced the spirtuality of England during the latter half of the 17th century.

Episode 19

Episode 18

Hello, I'm Wilson Pruitt, and you are listening to the History of Methodism Podcast. Today’s episode: English Spirituality.

One of my teachers once told me that the acknowledgement section of a book is the most important part. In the acknowledgements, you see and understand the community out of which the book was produced. John Wesley acknowledged a lot of authors and spiritual forbears throughout his career and Wesley freely named his influences. In fact, he did more that. He published them.

With his publishing endeavor called A Christian Library, Wesley was able to print and share widely lives of holy people as well as spiritual and theological texts and sermons which he thought would be edifying. Published in 55 volumes during his lifetime, the LIbrary was later condensed to 30 volumes by Thomas Jackson in the early 19th century to fill out Jackson’s Complete Works of Wesley. In A Christian Library, we can see explicitly the ideas and thoughts that Wesley found edifying and uplifting for Christians who are seeking God. Many if not most of the authors published therein wrote in the period we have been most recently covering in this podcast. The latter half of the 17th century was a renaissance for spiritual writing across the Western world. In France, the conflict between the Jesuits and the nuns at Port Royal and their defenders, led to a deep well of spiritual writing, some of which Wesley published in his extracts from Pascal’s Pensées, as well as the quietism of Madame Guyon and Fénelon and des Sales. In what is now Germany, Philip Spener, who was born in 1635, helped birth a pietist revival in the Lutheran Church that will influence Wesley heavily and the Methodist movement decisively. We will discuss Spener in detail in a future episode, but what is important for us today is to understand, in Ted Campbell’s words, that “the emergence of affective piety…must be due more to the impetus of common historical factors than direct influence.”1

We have discussed many of these factors in previous episodes, like the impact of the killing of King Charles I, the rule of Cromwell, the restoration of the Stuart’s, the loss to the Dutch in war, the arrival of William of Orange, as well as the expansion of trade in the New World and the enormous money and profits that began to flow back into Europe, leading to questions about what do with money and how to treat people without it. The Church’s place in this, as well, was extremely complicated. The Church of England went from having bishops to no bishops to bishops again supervising places that didn’t want bishops.

This was the experience of Jeremy Taylor when he was made Bishop by Charles II and appointed the Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He was only able to serve for 6 years with not much to show for his episcopal leadership. But Taylor is not remembered for his episcopal abilities but for the spiritual classics he penned: Holy Living in 1650 and Holy Dying in 1651. They were quickly published and stayed in print long after his death.

Taylor had been ordained in 1633 and sent to Uppingham Parish in London, but he was forced to flee after Parliament took over London in the Civil War. Taylor found refuge with the Earl of Carberry and it is to him that he dedicates Holy Living.

As Andrew Thompson writes, concerning the immediate context of Taylor’s work., “King Charles was executed by order of parliament in 1649; his patron Frances Vaughan, the countess of Carbery, died in 1650; and Taylor’s first wife, Phoebe, died in 1651. In the midst of both national and personal loss, Taylor wrote The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living in 1650 and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying in 1651.”

Here is how Taylor begins Holy Living:

It is necessary that every man should consider that since God has given him an excellent nature, an understanding soul, and an immortal spirit, having made him lord over the beasts, and but a little lower than the angels; he has appointed for him a work and a service great enough to employ those abilities, and has designed him to a state of life after this, to which he can only arrive by that service and obedience. Therefore, as every man is wholly God’s own portion by the title of creation, so all our labor and care, all our powers and faculties, must be wholly employed in the service of God, even all the days of our life; that this life being ended, we may live with him forever. Neither is it sufficient that we think of the service of God as a work of small employment, but that it be done by us as God intended it; that it be done with great earnestness and passion, with much zeal and desire; that we refuse no labor, that we bestow upon it much time, that we use the best guides, and arrive at the end of glory by all the ways of grace, of prudence, and religion.

The first section is divided into three parts

  1. Rules for our time
  2. Purity of Intention
  3. Practice the presence of God

The second section comes from Titus 2: 12-13:

we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

And it covers sobriety, justice, and religion. As Taylor defines it: “The first contains all our behavior in our private capacities, the fair treating of our bodies and spirits. The second enlarges our duty in all relations to our neighbor. The third contains the offices of direct religion and dealings with God.”

Concerning time, Taylor writes:

God has given to man a short time upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends; so that for every hour of our life (after we know good from evil), we must give an account to the great Judge of men and angels.

This idea of giving an account of every hour makes sense of some of John Wesley’s practices of keeping a diary. Richard Heitzenrater writes that Taylor “provided one of the most crucial suggestions that Wesley adopted: the first rule of holy living is care of your time. The most visible consequence of Taylor’s advice was Wesley’s beginning to keep a diary as a record and measure of his progress in holy living.”2Wesley also focused on Taylor’s language of intention. At the beginning of Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley writes:

In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor’s Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. In reading several parts of this book I was exceedingly affected—that part in particular which relates to purity of intention. Instantly I resolved to dedicate all my life to God; all my thoughts, and words, and actions; being throughly convinced, there was no medium, but that every part of my life (not some only) must either be a sacrifice to God or to myself, that is, in effect, to the devil? (WW 13:136).

Taylor’s work stands in contrast to the majority of Spiritual writings in A Christian Library that came from the Puritan tradition in England.

Wesley’s grandfather, Samuel Annesley, was a famous and prolific preacher and author who shaped the spiritual landscape of England. In his book on Susanna Wesley, John A. Newton calls Samuel Annesley ‘The Saint Paul of the Nonconformists.’ Wesley published a number of his Annesley’s sermons in A Christian Library, but other Puritan figures had more pride of place.

Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, and Richard Baxter, were all major players in the nonconformist debates mentioned in the last episode. But beyond their political intrigue, they were writers of a spiritual depth that Wesley appreciated. Even though he would disagree with many of their Calvinist assumptions, Wesley saw fit to include them in his Library.

Goodwin, Owen, and Baxter were all prolific to a phenomenal degree. Goodwin and Owen fall in the independent side with Baxter being more Presbyterian in outlook and tolerant in demeaner.

The influence of Calvinist evangelicals like John Piper, J.I. Packer, and Timothy Keller has brought the work of Owen and Goodwin to many eyes over the last few decades. A bestselling book published in 2020, Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly, functions as an extended commentary on the work of Goodwin and Owen. I mentioned one of Owen’s more overtly Calvinist work in the last episode, but Wesley included Owen and Goodwin in spite of those doctrinal disputes because of the power of their spiritual writings. Wesley published many extracts from Goodwin and Owen. An exemplary one from Goodwin is The Heart of Christ in Heaven, towards Sinners on Earth. which ends with this powerful proclamation

In all miseries and distresses, you know where to have a Friend to help and pity you; one, whose nature, office, interest, relation, all, engage him to your succor. You will find men, even friends, to be often unreasonable, and their bowels in many cases shut up: well, say to them all, "If you will not pity me, I know one that will; one in heaven, whose heart is touched with the feeling of all my infirmities,' and I will go and bemoan myself to him. “Come boldly, to lay open your complaints, and you shall find grace and mercy to help in time of need. "

Wesley introduces John Owen by saying he “was a great man, and generally respected as a scholar, a gentleman, and a divine.” Extracts from Owen’s work occupies two volumes of the Thomas Jackson edition of the Library. An example I will read comes from the work titled The Nature, Power, Deceit And Prevalenvy Of The Remainders Of Indewelling Sin In Believers, which looks at the heart of humans as opposed to the heart of Christ.

The heart in Scripture is variously used. Sometimes for the mind and understanding; sometimes for the will; sometimes for the affections; sometimes for the conscience; sometimes for the whole soul. Generally it denotes the whole soul of man, and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing good or evil the mind, as it inquireth, discerneth, and judges what is to be done, what refused; the will, as it chooseth or refuses; the affections, as they like or dislike that which is proposed to them; the conscience, as it warns and determines; are all together called the heart. This is the seat, the dwelling-place of this sin. The heart, as it is the entire principle of moral operations, of doing good or evil, as out of it proceed good or evil. Here dwells our enemy; this is the fort, the citadel of this tyrant, where it maintains a rebellion against GOD.

In contrast to Goodwin and Owen and most other authors throughout A Christian Library, Wesley chose to publish the vast majority of Richard Baxter’s The Saints Everlasting Rest. The scholar Richard Monk sees as a “prime example of moderate puritanism and it is with him that Wesley most closely identifies himself.”3 Baxter and Owen had many things in common but because of the stakes of the future of the Protectorate and nonconformism, they wrote against each other with such vitriol that their similarities were often masked. Yet Wesley did not see in them enemies but allies in the goal of edifying the church through Spiritual writings.

The Saints Everlasting Rest is a powerful work that comes from Hebrews 4:9: There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of GOD. Baxter then goes on to describe the rest Christians are promised in God as well as who the people of God are and how to be a part of this rest.

Baxter finishes this monumental work with these words:

Thus, Reader, I have given thee my best advice for the attaining and maintaining, a heavenly conversation. The manner is imperfect, and too much my own; but for the main matter I received it from Go D: from him I deliver it to thee, and his charge I lay upon thee, that thou entertain and practice it. If thou canst not do it fully, do it as thou canst; only be sure thou do it seriously and frequently.

Protestant infighting continued in this period with many on the Independent side seeing Baxter and those similar to him as almost as bad as Catholics. Baxter was named directly in a pamphlet titled A War Among the Angels of the Churches; wherein is shewed the Principles of the New Methodists in the great Point of Justification and published in 1693. The term, new methodist, had been used on the continent in Calvinist circles mostly against Roman Catholics and what was seen as the innovations of Rome, but the term was used against Baxter and others in hopes of dissuading new followers to these ideas. Arminianism, antinomianism, pelagianism, socinianism, and other such names were used more as pejorative provocations than concrete descriptions of thought and argument, but in the climate following the Restoration and especially after the Glorious Revolution, old names and insults did not have as much sway.

Wesley reprinted many more Puritan writers than we have the space to cover in this podcast. For instance, he included John Bunyan’s A Relation Of The Holy War, a typological narrative of spiritual formation similar to Bunyan’s Pilgram’s Progress.

A final thread of the tapestry of English Spirituality that we will cover in this episode was the creation of religious societies in 1678 by the immigrant from the Palatine lands in what is now Germany, Anthony Horneck. Horneck came to England after the return of Charles II and converted to the Church of England. A few years before, Phillip Spener had published his Pia Desideria, which is crudely seen as the beginning of the German pietist movement, but Horneck’s relation to German piety is not known and scholars today still argue about the provenance of his religious societies.

As Kevin Watson writes, “the Religious Societies that Horneck developed were organized by drawing up a list of rules that would govern them…and remain within the established church.”4. Some examples of the rules are as follows:

  1. All that enter the Society shall resolve upon a holy and serious life. . . .
  2. They shall not be allowed, in their meetings, to discourse of any controverted point of divinity.
  3. Neither shall they discourse of the government of Church or State. . . .5

The societies “attacked the problem of immorality on a personal, individualistic basis,” but they also “encouraged certain charitable causes, for which the members subscribed regularly as their circumstances would allow.”6 Wesley includes Horneck’s Exercises and his Lives Of Primitive Christians in A Christian Library. We will come back to this work in two episodes time when we look at the Quest for the Primitive Church.

The societies that Horneck founded and influenced grew rapidly and expanded into the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), which still exists today and of which John Wesley was a member, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG). There was also a Society for the Reformation of Manners, in front of which Samuel Wesley preached. In 1700, the Reverend Samuel Wesley “began a small religious society in Epworth built on Horneck’s model.”7 Richard Kidder and Josiah Woodward also published their own versions of the rules for Religious Societies around this same time. It is important to realize that there wasn’t a single school or single strain but a true diversity of societies from the very beginning, all within the Church of England in a way that they never challenged the structures or sources of the church, as did the various Puritan movements.

One of the truly influential aspects of the societies and especially of the SPCK, was the prolific publication of religious literature that could be easily purchased and shared widely. Instead of printing for scholarly debate or political fomentation, the SPCK printed for the masses and offered a format of mass media that John Wesley would not only join but appropriate for the future Methodist movement.

Through all of this, English Spirituality in all its forms, From Taylor to Owen to Horneck, was not isolated from theological trends on Continental Europe. The most important of which for our story was the rise of German Pietism during the same period we have covered in this episode. We have not discussed Luther or Lutheranism at length since Episode 2, but we must return to the cradle of the Reformation to see how Luther’s children developed a form of faithful practice in pietism that transformed Christianity in nearly every denomination around the world. Where did German pietism come from, next time on the History of Methodism.


Samuel Annesley, Vairous Sermons, in A Christian Library Volume 24.

Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest, in A Christian Library Volume 22.

Ted A. Campbell, A Religion of the Heart (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000).

Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ in Heaven, towards Sinners on Earth, in A Christian Library Volume 6

Richard Heitzenrater, Mirror and Mirror: Reflections on Early Methodism (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1989).

Richard Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodist (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995).

Scott Kisker, “John Wesley’s Puritan and Pietist Heritage Reexamined”, Wesleyan Theological Journal 34:2 (1999)

John Owen, The Nature, Power, Deceit And Prevalenvy Of The Remainders Of Indewelling Sin In Believers, A Christian Library Volume 10

Kevin M. Watson, Pursuing Social Holiness: The Band Meeting in Wesley’s Though and Popular Methodist Practice (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014).

Jeremy Taylor, Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying, in A Christian Library Volume 9

  1. Campbell, 43. ↩︎
  2. Heitzenrater, Wesley 35. ↩︎
  3. Monk, John Welsey: His Puritan Heritage, 245. ↩︎
  4. Watson, 20-21. ↩︎
  5. “Life of Anthony Horneck, D. D. Prebendary of Westminster and Preacher at the Savoy,” in Hone’s Lives of Eminent Christians, ii., 309-310, reprinted in Simon, John Wesley and the Religious Societies, 10-11. ↩︎
  6. Heitzenrater, Mirror, 37, 39. ↩︎
  7. Kisker, 273. ↩︎