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John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. London: William Boyer, 1755. Reprinted 1757, with further editions in 1760, 1790, and 1837. The 1790 reprint, in which the notes were eliminated, was published under the title, The New Testament, with an Analysis of the several Books and Chapters (London: at the New Chapel, 1790).
Wesley’s version is a limited revision of the King James version, done with reference to the Greek text of Bengel (1734), and with selected renderings and annotations drawn from Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti (1742) and other sources. It was widely used by Methodists, and the notes are still in print (both in abridged and unabridged editions), detached from the translation. In these notes we find nothing especially learned or interesting. They resemble sermon notes, consisting mostly of comments on the text that any competent preacher of Wesley’s time might make. Some of them are militantly Arminian, reflecting not so much the meaning and purpose of the biblical text as the partisan concerns of 18th-century Methodism. But in his revision of the KJV, Wesley seems deliberately to avoid injecting his doctrine into the Sacred text.
In his Preface he describes his revision of the KJV as “here and there a small alteration” where the text might be “made better, stronger, clearer, or more consistent with the context.” In the sample reproduced below (the First Epistle of Peter) we have marked with red type nearly all differences from the KJV, and from this it may be seen that most of the changes are merely stylistic, not affecting the sense at all. A few changes do alter the meaning somewhat, but in these we find nothing peculiar or sectarian. The changes are not paraphrastic in nature; they are in keeping with the literal character of the KJV. The text is presented in paragraphs, with the verse numbers removed to the side margin. It uses italics to indicate supplied words. Prefixed to each book are brief introductory remarks and an outline of the contents.
Readers might get the impression, from statements made in the Preface, that this work was done toward the end of Wesley’s life. He says, “My day is far spent … the shadows of the evening come on apace,” and so forth, evidently thinking that death was near. But in fact he was only fifty-one years old at the time, and he lived another thirty-seven years afterwards. In 1765-66 he published a set of notes on the Old Testament also, drawn mainly from the commentaries of Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole. In this work (published in three volumes, under the title Explanatory Notes Upon the Old Testament) he did not provide a revised translation of the Old Testament, as he had for the New Testament, but only the notes. This set was not nearly so widely used as Wesley’s New Testament, and was not reprinted until 1975. It is now out of print again.
For a thorough comparison of Wesley’s revision with the KJV itself see George C. Cell, ed., John Wesley’s New Testament, compared with the Authorized Version (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1938).
1. For many years I have had a desire of setting down and laying together, what has occurred to my mind, either in reading, thinking or conversation, which might assist serious persons, who have not the advantage of learning, in understanding the New Testament. But I have been continually deterred from attempting any thing of this kind, by a deep sense of my own inability: of my want not only of learning for such a work, but much more of experience and wisdom. This has often occasioned my laying aside the thought. And when by much importunity I have been prevailed upon to resume it, still I determined to delay as long as possible, that (if it should please God) I might finish my work and my life together.
2. But having lately had a loud call from god, to arise and go hence, I am convinced that, if I attempt any thing of this kind at all, I must not delay any longer. My day is far spent, and (even in a natural way) the shadows of the evening come on apace. And I am the rather induced to do what little I can in this way, because I can do nothing else: being prevented by my present weakness, from either travelling or preaching. But, blessed be God, I can still read, and write and think. O that it may be to his glory!
3. It will be easily discerned, even from what I have said already, and much more from the notes themselves, that they were not principally designed for men of learning; who are provided with many other helps: and much less for men of long and deep experience in the ways and word of God. I desire to sit at their feet, and to learn of them. But I write chiefly for plain, unlettered men, who understand only their mother-tongue, and yet reverence and love the word of God, and have a desire to save their souls.
4. In order to assist these in such a measure as I am able, I design first to set down the text itself, in the common English translation, which is in general (so far as I can judge) abundantly the best that I have seen. Yet I do not say, it is incapable of being brought in several places nearer to the original. Neither will I affirm, that the Greek copies from which this translation was made, are always the most correct. And therefore I shall take the liberty, as occasion may require, to make here and there a small alteration.
5. I am very sensible this will be liable to objection: nay, to objections of quite opposite kinds. Some will probably think, the text is altered too much; and others, that it is altered too little. To the former I would observe, that I have never, so much as in one place, altered it, for altering sake: but there, and there only, where, first, the sense was made better, stronger, clearer, or more consistent with the context: secondly, where the sense being equally good, the phrase was better or nearer the original. To the latter, who think the alterations are too few, and that the translation might have been nearer still, I answer, this is true; I acknowledge it might. But what valuable end would it have answered, to multiply such trivial alterations, as add neither clearness nor strength to the text? This I could not prevail upon myself to do: so much the less, because there is, to my apprehension, I know not what peculiarly solemn and venerable in the old language of our translation. And suppose this to be a mistaken apprehension and an instance of human infirmity, yet is it not an excusable infirmity, to be unwilling to part with what we have been long accustomed to, and to love the very words, by which God has often conveyed strength or comfort to our souls?
6. I have endeavoured to make the notes as short as possible, that the comment may not obscure or swallow up the text: and as plain as possible, in pursuance of my main design, to assist the unlearned reader: for this reason I have studiously avoided, not only all curious and critical enquiries, and all use of the learned languages, but all such methods of reasoning and modes of expression, as people in common life are unacquainted with: for the same reason, as I rather endeavour to obviate than to propose and answer objections, so I purposely decline going deep into many difficulties, lest I should leave the ordinary reader behind me.
7. I once designed to write down, barely what occurred to my own mind, consulting none but the inspired writers. But no sooner was I acquainted with that great light of the christian world (lately gone to his reward) Bengelius, than I entirely changed my design, being throughly convinced, it might be of more service to the cause of religion, were I barely to translate his Gnomon Novi Testamenti, than to write many volumes upon it. Many of his excellent notes I have therefore translated. Many more I have abridged; omitting that part which was purely critical, and giving the substance of the rest. Those various readings likewise which he has shewed to have a vast majority of antient copies and translations on their side, I have without scruple incorporated with the text: which after his manner I have divided all along (though not omitting the common division into chapters and verses, which is of use on various accounts) according to the matter it contains, making a larger or smaller pause, just as the sense requires. And even this is such an help in many places, as one who has not tried it can scarcely conceive.
8. I am likewise indebted for some useful observations, to Dr. Heylin’s theological lectures: and for many more, to Dr. Guyse, and to the Family Expositor of the late pious and learned Dr. Doddridge. It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them, the name of the author from whom it was taken: especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon farther consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader, from keeping close to the point in view, and receiving what was spoke, only according to its own intrinsic value.
9. I cannot flatter myself so far (to use the words of one of the above-named writers) as to imagine that I have fallen into no mistakes, in a work of so great difficulty. But my own conscience acquits me of having designedly misrepresented any single passage of scripture, or of having written one line, with a purpose of inflaming the hearts of christians against each other. God forbid that I should make the words of the most gentle and benevolent Jesus, a vehicle to convey such poison. Would to God that all the party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms, which have divided the Christian world, were forgot: and that we might all agree to sit down together, as humble loving disciples, at the feet of our common Master, to hear his word, to imbibe his spirit, and to transcribe his life in our own!
10. Concerning the scriptures in general, it may be observed, the word of the living God, which directed the first patriarchs also, was, in the time of Moses, committed to writing. To this were added, in several succeeding generations, the inspired writings of the other prophets. Afterwards, what the Son of God preached, and the Holy Ghost spake by the apostles, the apostles and evangelists wrote. This is what we now style the Holy Scripture: this is that word of our God which remaineth for ever: of which, though heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle shall not pass away. The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament, is a most solid and most precious system of divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God: and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess. It is the fountain of heavenly wisdom, which they who are able to taste, prefer to all writings of men, however wise, or learned, or holy.
11. An exact knowledge of the truth was accompanied in the inspired writers with an exactly regular series of arguments, a precise expression of their meaning, and a genuine vigour of suitable affections. The chain of argument in each book is briefly exhibited in the table prefixt to it, which contains also the sum thereof, and may be of more use, than prefixing the argument to each chapter; the division of the New Testament into chapters, having been made in the dark ages, and very incorrectly; often separating things that are closely joined, and joining those that are entirely distinct from each other.
12. In the language of the sacred writings, we may observe the utmost depth, together with the utmost ease. All the elegancies of human composures sink into nothing before it: God speaks not as man, but as God. His thoughts are very deep; and thence his words are of inexhaustible virtue. And the language of his messengers also, is exact in the highest degree: for the words which were given them accurately answered the impression made upon their minds: and hence Luther says, "divinity is nothing but a grammar of the language of the Holy Ghost." To understand this throughly, we should observe the emphasis which lies on every word; the holy affections expressed thereby, and the tempers shewn by every writer. But how little are these, the latter especially, regarded? Though they are wonderfully diffused through the whole New Testament, and are in truth a continued commendation of Him, who acts, or speaks, or writes.
13. The New Testament is all those sacred writings in which the new testament or covenant is described. The former part of this contains the writings of the evangelists and apostles: the latter, the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the former is, first, the history of Jesus Christ, from his coming in the flesh to his ascension into heaven; then the institution and history of the Christian church, from the time of his ascension. The revelation delivers what is to be, with regard to Christ, the church, and the universe, till the consummation of all things.
Bristol Hot-Wells, January 4, 1754.
PETER, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the sojourners scattered through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect (according to the foreknowledge of God the Father) through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath regenerated us to a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while (if need be) ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, which is much more precious than gold, (that perisheth, though it be tried with fire,) may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom though ye see him not, yet believing, ye now rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets, who prophesied of the grace of God toward you, inquired and searched diligently, Searching what, and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them signified, when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that were to follow. To whom it was revealed, that not for themselves, but for us they ministered the things which have been now declared to you by them that have preached the Gospel to you, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things angels desire to look into. Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be watchful, and hope perfectly for the grace that shall be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, conform not yourselves to your former desires in your ignorance: But as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of conversation: For it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear; Seeing ye know ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation delivered by tradition from your fathers. But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, Who verily was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in the last times, for you, Who through him believe in God that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God.
Having purified your souls by obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not by corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is grass, and all the glory of it as the flower of grass: The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen off: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which is preached to you in the Gospel.
Wherefore laying aside all wickedness, and all guile, and dissimulation, and envies, and evil speakings, As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby; Since ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: To whom coming as unto a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen of God and precious, Ye also as living stones are built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Therefore to you who believe, he is precious; but as to them who believe not, The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, to them who stumble, not believing the word, whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that ye may show forth the virtues of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Who in time past were not a people, but now are the people of God; who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly desires, which war against the soul, Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, Or to governors, as sent by him, for the punishment of evil doers, and the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well doing ye put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, yet not having your liberty for a cloak of wickedness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men, Love the brotherhood, Fear God, Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, though he suffer wrongfully. For what glory is it, if when ye commit faults and are buffeted, ye take it patiently. But if when ye do well and yet suffer, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto are ye called; for Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that ye might follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin might live to righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.
In like manner, ye wives, be subject to your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the deportment of the wives, Beholding your chaste deportment joined with fear: Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of curling the hair, and of wearing gold, or of putting on apparel, But the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price. For thus the holy women also of old time, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being subject to their own husbands, As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose children ye are while ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement: In like manner, ye husbands, dwell according to knowledge with the woman, as the weaker vessel; giving them honour, as being the joint heirs of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.
Finally, Be ye all of one mind, sympathizing with each other; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are called to this, to inherit a blessing. For let him that desireth to love life and to see good days, refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him turn from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But even if ye do suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye; and fear ye not their fear, neither be ye troubled, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: And be always ready to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience, that wherein they speak against you as evil doers, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, to suffer for well doing than for evil doing. For Christ also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but raised up to life by the Spirit, By which likewise he went and preached to the spirits in prison, Who were disobedient of old, when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight persons, were carried safely through the water: The antitype whereof, baptism, now saveth us, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who being gone into heaven, is on the right hand of God; angels, and authorities, and powers, being subjected to him. Seeing then Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind; (for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;) That ye may no longer live the rest of your time in the flesh, to the desire of men, but to the will of God. For the time of life that is past sufficeth to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when ye walked in lasciviousness, evil desires, excess of wine, banquetings, revellings, and abominable idolatries. Wherein they think it strange, that ye run not with them to the same profusion of riot, speaking evil of you, Who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the living and the dead. For to this end was the Gospel preached to them that are dead also, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit. But the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent love to each other; for love covereth a multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without murmuring. As every one hath received a gift, so minister it one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God: if any man minister, let him minister as of the ability which God supplieth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, wonder not at the burning which is among you, which is for your trial, as if a strange thing befell you: But as ye partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may likewise rejoice with exceeding great joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters, Yet if any suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: but if it begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God, commit their souls to him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator.
The elders that are among you I exhort, who am a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and likewise a partaker of the glory which shall be revealed, Feed the flock of God which is among you, overseeing it not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy gain, but of a ready mind, Neither as lording over the heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away. In like manner, ye younger, be subject to the elder, yea, being all subject to each other, be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Watch: be vigilant: for your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Now the God of all grace, who hath called us by Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, after ye have suffered awhile, himself shall perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.
By Sylvanus, a faithful brother, as I suppose, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and adding my testimony, that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you, and Mark my son. Salute ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ [ ].
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