The Antithetical Homiletic of John Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions, I-IV

  • Jim Coleman

Student thesis: Phd


University of Manchester Jim Coleman Doctor of Philosophy The Antithetical Homiletic of John Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions I-IV 2016 ABSTRACT This thesis recognizes John Wesley (1703-1791) as a conventional Anglican preacher rooted in the humanist rhetorical tradition. As such, Wesley was a homiletical theologian who presents doctrine sermonically. The thesis presents an interface between current Wesley Studies scholarship, which addresses the theological component of Wesley's so-called "Standard Sermons," and current studies of the early modern British sermon. By doing so, it provides a more thorough description of the rhetorical dimension and dynamic of Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions I-IV (SOSO). The introductory chapter offers a literature review which first locates John Wesley the homilist within the context of the early modern British sermon, then within the nineteenth and twentieth century biographical and theological perspectives of Wesley's preaching. It then reviews notable SOSO I-IV editions, the variety of perspectives regarding the purpose and audience of SOSO I-IV, establishes that Wesley's use of rhetorical antithesis is similar in kind to his pulpit contemporaries, and offers a methodology for exploring Wesley's antithetical preferences. Chapter Two presents a reappraisal of Wesley's 1746 Preface to SOSO I-IV. The Preface indicates Wesley's focus on the homiletic aspects of the series, and this chapter suggests categories for these features. Wesley also clearly states that the overarching theological purpose for SOSO I-IV was to "distinguish" Scriptural Christianity from the doctrinal imbalances of formalism (primarily moralism) and antinomianism. From the Preface declaration of the antithetical aim of I-IV, develops the thesis statement proper: This thesis conducts an analysis of the neoclassical form and homiletic features in John Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions IIV, to delineate an antithetical rhetorical pattern intended to correct persistent formalistic and antinomian doctrinal imbalances. Chapters Three, Four, and Five provide rhetorical (dispositio) analyses of the fifty-three SOSO I-IV sermons to discover internal support for the thesis statement. Chapter Three examines and categorizes the neoclassical introductions (exordium and partitio movements). In these, Wesley's rhetorical use of via salutis doctrine versus non-via salutis doctrine gains attention and interest. Chapter Four discusses his thematic use of "Scriptural" versus unscriptural Christianity in the sermon's argumentative (probatio and refutatio) sections. Chapter Five charts Wesley's use of holy versus unholy affections in the sermonic conclusions (peroratio). For Wesley, these antithetical themes counter the errors of moralism and antinomianism. Chapter Six reflects on the findings of the preceding chapters and confirms the consistency of rhetorical antithesis in SOSO I-IV. It argues for an antithetical "homiletic reading" of the Sermons which, more accurately than the prevalent "standardization reading," measures their form, function, and theological message. This interpretive pursuit more fully connects the contemporary reader of Wesley's sermons with the purpose, homiletic skill, rhetorical force, and spiritual vitality with which they were originally preached, heard, and read.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester

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