In Wesley’s Address to the Clergy, he laid down several ideas under the heading – “What manner of men ought we to be?”
There is, perhaps, another time and place to debate (1) Whether or not there is such a thing in scripture as “The Clergy,” in the first place, and (2) Wesley’s limitation of such a place of ministry only to “Men” – but he was a man of his time, and so I hope you can look past those elements and think about the qualities he upholds as essential for those (both men and women) who lead in the Church of Jesus Christ.
For those who are familiar with this content, you will notice that I have taken some liberties, and done a bit of editing (for flow) of the primary ideas expressed by Wesley (including adding my own titles to each of the 14 ideas he expressed for contemporary readers).
Read on, and then reflect on these with me in the comments.
And, First, if we are “overseers over the Church of God, which he hath bought with his own blood,” what manner of men ought we to be, in gifts as well as in grace?
1. Naturally Gifted and Intelligent –
Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness? Is not this necessary in a high degree for the work of the ministry? Otherwise, how will he be able to understand the various states of those under his care; or to steer them through a thousand difficulties and dangers, to the haven where they would be? Is it not necessary, with respect to the numerous enemies whom he has to encounter? Can a fool cope with all the men that know not God, and with all the spirits of darkness? Nay, he will neither be aware of the devices of Satan, nor the craftiness of his children.
2. Perceptive and Discerning –
Is it not highly expedient that a guide of souls should have likewise some liveliness and readiness of thought? Or how will he be able, when need requires, to “answer a fool according to his folly?” How frequent is this need! Seeing we almost everywhere meet with those empty; yet petulant creatures, who are far “wiser in their own eyes, than seven men that can render a reason.” Reasoning, therefore, is not the weapon to be used with them. You cannot deal with them thus. They scorn being convinced; nor can they be silenced, but in their own way.
3. A Good Memory –
[To the first two] should be joined a good memory; if it may be, ready, that you may make whatever occurs in reading or conversation your own; but, however, retentive, lest we be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” On the contrary, “every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven,” every Teacher fitted for his work, “is like an householder who bringeth out of his treasures things new and old.”
4. A Sure Knowledge of His Calling –
And as to acquired endowments, can he take one step aright, without first a competent share of knowledge? a knowledge, First, of his own office; of the high trust in which he stands, the important work to which he is called? Is there any hope that a man should discharge his office well, if he knows not what it is? that he should acquit himself faithfully of a trust, the very nature whereof he does not understand? Nay, if he knows not the work God has given him to do, he cannot finish it.
5. A Strong Knowledge of The Larger Biblical Message –
No less necessary is a knowledge of the Scriptures, which teach us how to teach others; yea, a knowledge of all the Scriptures; seeing scripture interprets scripture; one part fixing the sense of another. So that, whether it be true or not, that every good textuary is a good Divine, it is certain none can be a good Divine who is not a good textuary. None else can be mighty in the Scriptures; able both to instruct and to stop the mouths of gainsayers.
6. A Strong Knowledge of Every Particular Biblical Text –
In order to do this accurately, ought he not to know the literal meaning of every word, verse, and chapter; without which there can be no firm foundation on which the spiritual meaning can be built? Should he not likewise be able to deduce the proper corollaries, speculative and practical, from each text; to solve the difficulties which arise, and answer the objections which are or may be raised against it; and to make a suitable application of all to the consciences of his hearers?
7. A Strong Capacity/Facility with Biblical Languages –
But can he do this, in the most effectual manner, without a knowledge of the original tongues? Without this, will he not frequently be at a stand, even as to texts which regard practice only? But he will be under still greater difficulties, with respect to controverted scriptures. He will be ill able to rescue these out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: For whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once.
8. A Strong Understanding of Biblical Manners, Customs, and Backgrounds –
Is not a knowledge of profane history, likewise, of ancient customs, of chronology and geography, though not absolutely necessary, yet highly expedient, for him that would thoroughly understand the Scriptures? since the want even of this knowledge is but poorly supplied by reading the comments of other men.
9. Foundational Understanding of The Sciences –
Some knowledge of the sciences also, is, to say the least, equally expedient. Nay, may we not say, that the knowledge of one, (whether art or science,) although now quite unfashionable, is even necessary next, and in order to, the knowledge of the Scripture itself? I mean logic. For what is this, if rightly understood, but the art of good sense? of apprehending things clearly, judging truly, and reasoning conclusively? What is it, viewed in another light, but the art of learning and teaching; whether by convincing or persuading? What is there, then, in the whole compass of science, to be desired in comparison of it?
Is not some acquaintance with what has been termed the second part of logic, (metaphysics,) if not so necessary as this, yet highly expedient, (1.) In order to clear our apprehension, (without which it is impossible either to judge correctly, or to reason closely or conclusively,) by ranging our ideas under general heads? And, (2.) In order to understand many useful writers, who can very hardly be understood without it?
Should not a Minister be acquainted too with at least the general grounds of natural philosophy? Is not this a great help to the accurate understanding several passages of Scripture? Assisted by this, he may himself comprehend, and on proper occasions explain to others, how the invisible things of God are seen from the creation of the world; how “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork;” till they cry out, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.”
But how far can he go in this, without some knowledge of geometry? which is likewise useful, not barely on this account, but to give clearness of apprehension, and an habit of thinking closely and connectedly.
It must be allowed, indeed, that some of these branches of knowledge are not so indispensably necessary as the rest; and therefore no thinking man will condemn the Fathers of the Church, for having, in all ages and nations, appointed some to the ministry, who, suppose they had the capacity, yet had not had the opportunity of attaining them. But what excuse is this for one who has the opportunity, and makes no use of it? What can be urged for a person who has had an University education, if he does not understand them all? Certainly, supposing him to have any capacity, to have common understanding, he is inexcusable before God and man.
10. A Good Grasp on Historical Theology –
Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused, if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, the knowledge of the Fathers? the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the Council of Nice. But who would not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? with St. Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, Austin; and, above all, the man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?
11. Knowledge of the World (Think “contextualized ministry”) –
There is yet another branch of knowledge highly necessary for a Clergyman, and that is, knowledge of the world; a knowledge of men, of their maxims, tempers, and manners, such as they occur in real life. Without this he will be liable to receive much hurt, and capable of doing little good; as he will not know, either how to deal with men according to the vast variety of their characters, or to preserve himself from those who almost in every place he in wait to deceive.
12. Well-Tuned Spiritual Discernment –
How nearly allied to this is the discernment of spirits! So far as it may be acquired by diligent observation. And can a guide of souls be without it? If he is, is he not liable to stumble at every step?
13. Common Sense –
Can he be without an eminent share of prudence? That most uncommon thing which is usually called common sense? But how shall we define it? Shall we say, with the Schools, that it is recta ratio rerum agibilium particularium?* Or is it an habitual consideration of all the circumstances of a thing,—Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando? And a facility of adapting our behavior to the various combinations of them? However it [is] defined, should it not be studied with all care, and pursued with all earnestness of application? For what terrible inconveniences ensue, whenever it is remarkably wanting!
14. Refined Behavior (Wesley calls it ‘good breeding’ – not a reference to birth) –
Next to prudence or common sense, (if it be not included therein,) a Clergyman ought certainly to have some degree of good breeding; I mean address, easiness and propriety of behavior, wherever his lot is cast: Perhaps one might add, he should have (though not the stateliness; for lie is “the servant of all,” yet) all the courtesy of a gentleman, joined with the correctness of a scholar. Do we want a pattern of this? We have one in St. Paul, even before Felix, Festus, King Agrippa. One can scarce help thinking he was one of the best bred men, one of the finest gentlemen in the world. O that we likewise had the skill to “please all men for their good unto edification!”
Well, there you have it! If John Wesley gets to tell you what needs to be in place before you take on your pastoral assignment, this is all part of the list he’d give you. The address to the clergy is much longer than this, but this part stood out to me for many reasons. I would enjoy your reflections and comments below —
 Wesley, J. (1872). The Works of John Wesley (Third Edition., Vol. 10, pp. 481–485). London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room.