A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 02, 2007

John Wesley on... #1 (Vegetarianism)

One of the little known facts about John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, was that for most of his adult life, he was a vegetarian. While it was true that Wesley was concerned over the suffering of animals and their participation in the future redemption of the world (see his sermon "General Deliverance"), it does not seem to be the case that Wesley refrained from eating meat for moral reasons, as some modern day vegetarians have suggested. He wrote to the Bishop of London, who criticized his vegetarian ways, mentioning that he did return to eating meat for a while in order to demonstrate to his detractors that moral scruples had nothing to do with his diet (quote below). It is also important to note that Wesley never encouraged others to become vegetarians.

Rather, Wesley refrained from meat and wine because of health concerns. He wrote in the same letter to the Bishop of London, "Since the time I gave up the use of flesh-meats and wine, I have been delivered from all physical ills."

He states the matter at length: "By 'extraordinary strictnesses and severities,' I presume your Lordship means the abstaining from wine and animal food; which, it is sure, Christianity does not require. But if you do, I fear your Lordship is not thoroughly informed of the matter of fact. I began to do this about twelve years ago, when I had no thought of 'annoying parochial ministers,' or of 'captivating' any 'people' thereby, unless it were the Chicasaw or Choctaw Indians. But I resumed the use of them both, about two years after, for the sake of some who thought I made it a point of conscience; telling them, 'I will eat flesh while the world standeth' rather than 'make my brother to offend.' Dr. Cheyne advised me to leave them off again, assuring me, 'Till you do, you will never be free from fevers.' And since I have taken his advice, I have been free (blessed be God) from all bodily disorders."

In addition, Wesley encouraged other behaviors related to health. He promoted moderation in food and drink and he discouraged the use of certain medicines (e.g. opium and quinine). Wesley recommended two hours of walking a day, he believed the sick should exercise in the fresh air, and he made a connection (virtually unknown in that day) between cleanliness and health.

Wesley understood the connections between health, diet and exercise, even though some of those particular connections he made may now be understood as tenuous. Nevertheless, since Father John believed Paul's claim that the body was a temple to the Holy Spirit, he also knew that health was a matter of discipleship.


Beth Quick said...

I know his reason were different, but we vegetarians like to claim him anyway ;) Cool to learn more about though - I've never seen that excerpt.
JW was so disciplined - I am a little complusive myself, but I could never attain the diligently disciplined lifestyle he maintained!

Allan R. Bevere said...


You are quite right about Wesley's disciplined life. Oh, that I could live in such a way!

I think vegetarians claim him on moral grounds because of his comments concerning eschatological redemption and the place Wesley gives the animal kingdom in that redemption. Indeed, after reading Wesley on the subject, one wonders why he never made a case for vegetarianism on eschatological grounds.

I am not a vegetarian and I have never found the ecological arguments for vegetarianism persuasive, but the eschatological arguments are actually quite compelling. I guess I just like my grill too much!

Keith H. McIlwain said...

A good reminder of how far ahead of his time JW truly was.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Great to know, Allan. He lived a long life even by this day's standards, and pretty healthy to the end, as I recall.

My wife's health improved dramatically when she went to a "vegan" diet (no meat or dairy). She's not 100% stickler to it, but largely so. And I've felt better going along for the ride (I'm probably more like 90+%).

Anyhow on so many issues John Wesley was ahead of his day. Thanks!

Allan R. Bevere said...


I can believe that your wife felt better after changing her diet. The old adage, "You are what you eat" is so true.

Andy B. said...

I have never read that JW quote - thanks for lifting it up.
I am happy to count him as a fellow veggie lover!

John said...

Let us also remember that JW was a terrible husband.

A terrible husband. And a vegetarian.


Now I'm going to be a good husband to my wife and go eat a pork chop.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I doubt that there is a connection between the two, but I sure hope you enjoyed the pork chop.

John Wesley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy B. said...

Ooh, I was so hoping to hear what John Wesley had to say on this matter. I wonder why he deleted his post?

Allan R. Bevere said...

Andy B.

Good question; perhaps Father John will change his mind and speak to us on this matter.


Genesis 1:29: 'And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat'

'Thou shalt not kill' full stop - no 'murder' - which is a legal term anyway - just no violence.

How can our souls rise to Heaven heavy with the burden of slaughter, violence & horror?

A child's heart is pure. Light. A child cannot bear to see or hear of an animal hurt.

Look to our heart, the seat of the soul, for there we find the Truth.

God Bless.

lorettainnz said...

people choose how they behave. My husband of 42 years is supportive, kind and caring , a great husband and we are vegan many years