Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Mark Twain? John Wesley? John M. Bartholomew? Arthur Twining Hadley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lengthy orations on spiritual topics are unlikely to change the views of resistant audience members. Here are three versions of a pertinent adage:

  • Few sinners are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon.
  • Few souls are saved after the first half-hour of a sermon.
  • No souls saved after the first 15 minutes.

This saying has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and 18th-century English evangelist John Wesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in 1864 within “The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association”. No attribution was specified, and the crucial phrase was placed between quotation marks signaling that it was already in circulation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The correct view of this subject is contained in the statement, that there should be no indecent haste in disposing of topics so dignified as those of the pulpit, but “few souls are saved after the first half-hour.”

The first known ascriptions to John Wesley and Mark Twain occurred many years after their respective deaths. Thus, the evidence supporting these ascriptions is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Notes:

  1. 1864 May, The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Volume 5, Number 5, Stray Hints Too Parishes, Start Page 215, Quote Page 219, American Unitarian Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Do All the Good You Can; In All the Ways You Can

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 ever you 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.”

†Dr. Murray.

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.

Continue reading Do All the Good You Can; In All the Ways You Can

Notes:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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