John Wesley? Nicholas Murray? Laban Clark? Kirwan? Dwight L. Moody? Tombstone in Shrewsbury? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: John Wesley was a prominent English religious figure whose teachings inspired Methodism. The following elaborate injunction is sometimes called “John Wesley’s Rule of Life”:
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 you ever can.
Would you please explore the provenance of this multipart expression?
Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find these precise words in the oeuvre of John Wesley who died in 1791; however, there is evidence that he delivered sermons containing passages providing a partial match.
The 1799 work “Sermons on Several Occasions” by Reverend John Wesley contained a homily on “The Law Established through Faith” with the following guidance. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Neither is love content with barely working no evil to our neighbour. It continually incites us to do good: as we have time, and opportunity, to do good in every possible kind, and in every possible degree to all men.
The collection also contained a sermon on “The Use of Money” by Wesley with the following instructions: 2
No more waste! Cut off every expence which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand. No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has intrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men.
The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1852 book “The Riches that Bring No Sorrow” by Erskine Neale who used a footnote to ascribe the words to someone named Dr. Murray: 3
And one—the most legitimate—inference from the Sacred Volume was systematically overlooked: “Do all the good you can; in all the ways you can; to all the people you can; and just as long as you can.”†
An 1868 citation given further below indicated that an American Presbyterian clergyman Nicholas Murray employed a version of the statement above, and this person might be the Murray referenced; however, Murray credited an unnamed ninety-one year old man.
QI believes that the excerpt above may have evolved from Wesley’s words. Admittedly, the components of this excerpt have a parallel structure that makes it more interesting and memorable than Wesley’s version.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1799, Sermons on Several Occasions (A New Edition) by the Rev. John Wesley (Late Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford), Sermon 36: The Law Established through Faith: Discourse 2, Start Page 478, Quote Page 486, Printed by Edward Baines; Sold by T. Hannam, The Preachers in the New Itinerancy, and the Booksellers, Leeds, England. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1799, Sermons on Several Occasions (A New Edition) by the Rev. John Wesley (Late Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford), Sermon 50: The Use of Money, Start Page 662, Quote Page 675, Printed by Edward Baines; Sold by T. Hannam, The Preachers in the New Itinerancy, and the Booksellers, Leeds, England. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1852, The Riches that Bring No Sorrow by The Rev. Erskine Neale, Chapter 6: Cavendish—The Philosopher, Quote Page 110, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩