The Foundations of Courteous Compassion—John Wesley (1703–1791)

John Wesley was so committed to relieving the poor that he found it difficult to get to the end of the week with money in his pocket. He urged generosity to the poor as a duty and led the way by giving away over a thousand pounds a year. His giving was saturated with a sense of respectful courtesy for the recipient. One observer noted: “He never relieved poor people in the street but he either took off, or moved his hat to them when they thanked him.”[1] The foundation of his courteous compassion was rooted in his penetrating vision of creation and redemption.

Shall we endeavour to go a little deeper, to search into the foundation of this matter? What is the source of that desire to please which we term courtesy? Let us look attentively into our heart, and we shall soon find the answer. The same Apostle that teaches us to ‘be courteous’ teaches us to ‘honour all men’. And his Master teaches me to love all men. Join these together, and what will be the effect? A poor wretch cries to me for an alms: I look and see him covered with dirt and rags. But through these I see one that has an immortal spirit, made to know and love and dwell with God to eternity: I honour him for his Creator’s sake. I see through all these rags that he is purpled over with the blood of Christ. I love him for the sake of his Redeemer. The courtesy therefore which I feel and show toward him is a mixture of the honour and love which I bear to the offspring of God, the purchase of his Son’s blood, and the candidate for immortality. This courtesy let us feel and show toward all men; and we shall please all men to their edification.[2]

[1] Quoted in John Walsh, John Wesley (1703-1791): A Bicentennial Tribute (London: Dr. Williams’s Trust, 1993), 17.

[2] John Wesley, “On Pleasing All Men,” in Sermons, vol. 3, ed. Albert C. Outler (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), 425.