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“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Wesley did not say this.

You may have seen this quote in a nice frame on the wall of a Methodist Church, or even published in a book, citing John Wesley as its author. (For example, it was cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.) Despite the persistence of the quote being attributed to John Wesley, you will not find in anywhere in his writing.

You can add this quote to other quotes that are stubbornly connected to John Wesley despite the fact that there is no source that connects them to Wesley’s pen. Two I have previously written about here are:

“I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” [Original post here.]

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.” [Original post here.]

There are many things I have come to appreciate about twitter, but one of the things that I find the most frustrating is the persistence of misquotes of historical figures. And due to my own area of specialization, misquoting John Wesley gets to me the most. Wesley and others were frequently misquoted before social media, but with the advent of twitter misquoting Wesley seems to be more regular. Wesley said enough interesting, surprising, and even controversial things that we should not need to attribute things to him that he did not actually say. Historical accuracy matters.

Richard P. Heitzenrater discussed these quotes and some other ways Wesley is misquoted or misunderstood in a piece published in Circuit Rider in 2003. You can view a PDF of that article here.

The United Methodist Reporter also wrote a similar piece titled “Wesley, misquoted” in 2011.

In any event, regarding this particular quote, there is no evidence that Wesley said this. We should stop saying that he did.

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