My Justice Journey: John Wesley's Field Bible

blog-1-jhThe Revd Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference

Along with a number of other representatives of the Methodist Church in Britain, I was recently given a statuette of John Wesley. It is not a representation that I had seen before: it shows him arms aloft in the midst of his preaching and in his left hand a somewhat outsized Bible.

It is a reminder of the extraordinary evangelistic ministry out of which Methodism was born and the centrality of the Bible in that ministry. As Wesley said in the Preface to his published sermons in 1746, he longed to be ‘a man of one book’.

One copy that he had of that ‘one book’ was the Field Bible which is now handed to the President of the Conference as part of their induction following election.

blog-1-jh-wesley-statuetteThe common assumption that it is called a ‘Field Bible’ because it was used in open air preaching is mistaken. It is so named because it was printed by one John Field in 1653. Wesley obtained his copy in 1766 and passed it on in 1788. From 1844 it was handed down from one Wesleyan Methodist President to another and the custom continued after Methodist Union.  

Each year at the Conference, the Secretary introduces the induction of the Presidency and explains what the Field Bible is. Each year, the Secretary will tell the Conference that John Wesley assured readers “that it is ‘a genuine Field Bible’, on the grounds that he had corrected the misprints.” 

Each year, the Conference will politely laugh. However, it is a reminder of the diligent way in which Wesley engaged with Scripture. He was not afraid to interrogate it. The introduction to the Notes on the New Testament indicate the care with which Wesley had scrutinized the English translation that was before him. He was seeking to know what God was saying to him, to his hearers, to Britain and Ireland in his day through the words of inspired Scripture.

That close study of the text led Wesley (in Harold J Recinos’ words[1]), ‘to see the world of the poor, the racially despised, and disinherited as the ultimate context of Christian revelation’.

From the perspective, Wesley campaigned in word and action against the social evils of his day, gave away much of his income to help destitute people, and encouraged the members of Methodist societies to offer all the help that they could to their neighbours in need.

blog-1-jh-field-bibleThe President who takes in their hands the Bible that Wesley himself studied which such attention takes on that tradition and does so as the representative of a Church that commits itself to the struggle for justice that is informed by the scriptures. 

I do not know on what contemporary representation of Wesley the statuette I was given is based, but it is not one of Wesley holding the Field Bible. The Bible in Wesley’s hand (proportionately) is an enormous tome.

The first thing many people notice about John Wesley’s Field Bible is how small it is – 11.5 cm by 6 cm and 4 cm deep. Perhaps as we see it pass from President to President that too is a helpful reminder that comparatively small things can made a positive difference in our divided and unjust world.   


[1] ‘In a divided world, Methodism matters’, The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies (Oxford:OUP, 2009), p691