I’m slowly reading the letters of John Wesley. I found these on line at The Wesley Center. I have downloaded the first two volumes and formatted them for a maximization of trade-off between easy reading and concise printing, and printed them. I’m thus reading them from my printed copy. I found this interesting piece today.
“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”
Wesley wrote this on 27 September 1730 to Miss Ann Granville. This is part of the “Cyrus-Aspasia” letters, not printed in most early collections of his letters, which are believed to be coded affectionate (if not love) letters between Wesley and the young widow Mary Granville Pendarves. Ann was Mary’s younger sister, and Wesley wrote her as well. In these words by the founder of Methodism and, more importantly, the driving force behind the 18th Century revival in England, I find much to think about and much to inspire. I may take a few days to discuss this.
First up is his thought “Strange to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark….” Is that not a perfect description of the average person’s life? Oh, we all leave marks behind us. As a genealogy hobbyist who has found lots of these marks left by otherwise unknown ancestors, I know this. But for the most part most people have no impact beyond their immediate family and perhaps a few close acquaintances. How apt Wesley’s metaphor is. An arrow moves through the air at great speed and for great distances. It has an effect at the end of its journey, but the territory it passes through is not affected except for a momentary disturbance of unseen gases.
So could any of us look back on years passed and wonder, “What have I accomplished in the last [X years, or Y decades]? Has that much time really passed? They seemed full at the time. Why do I have such a sense of non-accomplishment?” Many people want to have an impact on our world: help someone, teach someone, train-up someone, create something, discover something, improve something. Yet, many more people don’t give a thought to any of this, worrying instead about eight hours work, dinner on the table, and television all evening. Quite a dichotomy. Unfortunately there are likely many more people who fit the latter description than the former. And many of the former devise no game plan for doing more than momentarily disturbing unseen gases
For those who, like Wesley, want to accomplish so much that they wish “the wheels of life stand still”, a game plan for accomplishing influence is necessary. I pray that God would help me to develop that game plan, and have that influence.