Among the words put in John Wesley’s mouth that he did not actually say, perhaps the most common are the following:
I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.
Wesley never said that.
If you do a google search, you will easily come up with numerous examples of this quote being attributed to Wesley. What you will not find is a citation of the source where Wesley is supposed to have actually said it.
This one is particularly timely, as just this weekend someone I follow on twitter retweeted something Craig Groeschel tweeted. (Groeschel is the pastor of LifeChurch, a mega church with multiple satellite campuses. He is also a former United Methodist pastor.) Here is Groeschel’s tweet:
“Set yourself on fire with passion & people will come for miles to watch you burn.” John Wesley
Groeschel’s version has the quote as instructions or a command. Due to the number of followers that Groeschel has on twitter, more than 100 people have retweeted his original tweet. (My point here is not to slam Groeschel, I am sure he meant well and did not realize that this is falsely attributed to Wesley. Many, many other people have made the same mistake. But, for me this is an interesting study in how quickly inaccurate information can spread on the internet.)
I cannot quote a print source for documentation that this is not in Wesley. However, I do have an email from Dr. Richard Heitzenrater that is a response to a query from a Wesley Studies email group that asked about the source of this quote. Heitzenrater basically responded to the email by saying – look for that quote in Wesley as long as you want, you won’t find it.
It troubles me that this quote is so frequently attributed to Wesley, because to me it does not sound like something that Wesley would have said. In the email string that first made me aware of how often this is attributed to Wesley, someone commented that the quote was rather “braggadocious” and as a result did not sound like Wesley. I agree. It would not be characteristic of Wesley to say, “I do something awesome, and as a result people come to look at me.” Wesley’s desire was not to attract people to himself, but to point them to the risen Lord who he believed was their only hope of salvation.
In any event, Wesley didn’t say that. We should stop saying that he did.
Note: This is the second post about things Wesley did not actually say. To read the first post, click here.