“Word to a Drunkard” & John Wesley on alcohol

See also: Bible says be sober again and again.

“Word to a Drunkard” by John Wesley

Rev. John Wesley portrait
John Wesley

1. Are you a man? God made you a man; but you make yourself a beast. Wherein does a man differ from a beast? Is it not chiefly in reason and understanding? But you throw away what reason you have. You strip yourself of your understanding. You do all you can to make yourself a mere beast; not a fool, not a madman only, but a swine, a poor filthy swine. Go and wallow with them in the mire! Go, drink on, till thy nakedness be uncovered, and shameful spewing be on thy glory! [Hab. 2:16]

2. O how honourable is a beast of God’s making, compared to one who makes himself a beast! But that is not all. You make yourself a devil. You stir up all the devilish tempers that are in you, and gain others, which perhaps were not in you; at least you heighten and increase them. You cause the fire of anger, or malice, or lust, to burn seven times hotter than before. At the same time you grieve the Spirit of God, till you drive him quite from you; and whatever spark of good remained in your soul you drown and quench at once.

3. So you are now just fit for every work of the devil, having cast off all that is good or virtuous, and filled your heart with every thing that is bad, that is earthly, sensual, devilish. You have forced the Spirit of God to depart from you; for you would take none of his reproof; and you have given yourself up into the hands of the devil, to be led blindfold by him at his will.

4. Now, what should hinder the same thing from befalling you, which befell him who was asked, which was the greatest sin, adultery, drunkenness, or murder; and which of the three he had rather commit. He said drunkenness was the least. Soon after, he got drunk; then he met another man’s wife, and ravished her. The husband coming to help her, he murdered him. So drunkenness, adultery, and murder went together.

5. I have heard a story of a poor wild Indian, far wiser than either him or you. The English gave him a cask of strong liquor. The next morning he called his friends together, and setting it in the midst of them, said, “These white man have given us poison. This man (calling him by his name) “was a wise man, and would hurt none but his enemies; but as soon as he had drunk of this, he was mad, and would have killed his own brother. We will not be poisoned.” He then broke the cask, and poured the liquor upon the sand.

6. On what motive do you thus poison yourself? Only for the pleasure of doing it? What! Will you make yourself a beast, or rather a devil? Will you run the hazard of committing all manner of villanies; and this only for the poor pleasure of a few moments, while the poison is running down your throat? O never call yourself a Christian! Never call yourself a man! You are sunk beneath the greater part of the beasts that perish.

7. Do you not rather drink for the sake of company? Do you not do it to oblige your friends? “For company,” do you say? How is this? Will you take a dose of ratsbane for company? If twenty men were to do so before you, would you not desire to be excluded? How much more may you desire to be excluded from going to hell for company? But “to oblige your friends:” what manner of friends are they who would be obliged by your destroying yourself? who would suffer, nay, entice you to do so? They are villains. They are your worst enemies. They are just such friends, as a man that would smile in your face, and stab you to the heart.

8. O do not aim at any excuse! Say not, as many do, “I am no one’s enemy but my own.” If it were so, what a poor saying is this, “I give none but my own soul to the devil.” Alas! Is not that too much? Why shouldest thou give him thy own soul? Do it not. Rather give it to God.

But it is not so. You are an enemy of your king, whom you rob hereby of a useful subject. You are an enemy to your country, which you defraud of the service you might do, wither as a man or as a Christian. You are an enemy to every man that sees you in your sin; for your example may move him to do the same. A drunkard is a public enemy. I should not wonder at all, if you was (like Cain of old) afraid that “every man who meeteth you should slay you.” [Gen. 4:14]

9. Above all, you are an enemy to God, the great God of heaven and earth; to him who surrounds you on every side, and can just now send you quick into hell. Him you are continually affronting to his face. You are setting him at open defiance. O do not provoke him thus any more! Fear the great God!

10. You are an enemy to Christ, to the Lord that hath bought you. You fly in the face of his authority. You set at nought both his sovereign power and tender love. You crucify him afresh; and when you call him your Saviour, what is it less than to “betray him with a kiss?” [Luke 22:48]

11. O repent! See and feel what a wretch you are. Pray to God, to convince you in your inmost soul. How often have you crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame! [Heb. 6:6] Pray that you may know yourself, inwardly and outwardly, all sin, all guilt, all helplessness. Then cry out, “Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!” [Luke 18:39] Thou lamb of God, take away my sins! Grant me thy peace. Justify the ungodly. O bring me to the blood of sprinkling, that I may go and sin no more [John 5:14; 8:11], that I may love much, having had so much forgiven! [Luke 7:47]

John Wesley, ‘Word to a Drunkard’.

What! drunken Christians!

What! drunken Christians! cursing and swearing Christians! lying Christians! cheating Christians! If these are Christians at all, they are devil Christians…

John Wesley, 1748, ‘A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists’.

God’s curse against liquor-sellers by John Wesley

[Note: Mr. Wesley was fair and comprehensive: he not only rebuked poor miserable drunkards themselves (liquor-buyers) but likewise rebuked the liquor-sellers who are guilty of producing drunkards in the first place. Neither did he only pay lip service, so the Methodist Societies allowed no members who refused to abandon either of these wrongs. Someone who cares for the church of God must be able to maintain order: ‘one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence. (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?’ (1 Tim. 3:4-5)]

The number of people who were expelled the society were sixty-four: two for cursing and swearing. Two for habitual Sabbath breaking. Seventeen for drunkenness. Two for retailing spirituous liquors. Three for quarrelling and brawling. One for beating his wife. Three for habitual, wilful lying. Four for railing and evil speaking. One for idleness and laziness. And nine-and-twenty for lightness and carelessness. [The next day he wrote:]
I am more and more convinced, that the devil himself desires nothing more than this, that the people of any place should be half awakened, and then left to themselves to fall asleep again. Therefore I determine, by the grace of God, not to strike one stroke in any place where I cannot follow the blow.

John Wesley, 12-13 March 1743, Journal.

Neither may we gain by hurting our neighbour in his body. Therefore we may not sell anything which tends to impair health. Such is, eminently, all that liquid fire, commonly called drams or spirituous liquors. It is true, these may have a place in medicine*; they may be of use in some bodily disorders; although there would rarely be occasion for them were it not for the unskillfulness of the practitioner. Therefore, such as prepare and sell them only for this end may keep their conscience clear. But who are they who prepare and sell them only for this end? Do you know ten such distillers in England? Then excuse these. But all who sell them in the common way, to any that will buy, are poisoners general. They murder His Majesty’s subjects by wholesale, neither does their eye pity or spare. They drive them to hell like sheep. And what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men? Who then would envy their large estates and sumptuous palaces? A curse is in the midst of them: The curse of God cleaves to the stones, the timber, the furniture of them. The curse of God is in their gardens, their walks, their groves; a fire that burns to the nethermost hell! Blood, blood is there: The foundation, the floor, the walls, the roof are stained with blood! And canst thou hope, O thou man of blood, though thou art “clothed in scarlet and fine linen, and farest sumptuously every day;” [Luke 16:19] canst thou hope to deliver down thy fields of blood to the third generation? Not so; for there is a God in heaven: Therefore, thy name shall soon be rooted out. Like as those whom thou hast destroyed, body and soul, “thy memorial shall perish with thee!” [Acts 8:20]

John Wesley, 17 Feb. 1744*, Sermons, ‘On the Use of Money’, section 4.

*[Medical use of these:] infinitely overbalanced by the abuse of them; therefore, were it in my power, I would banish them out of the world.

John Wesley, 11 Dec. 1787, Letter to Thomas Wride.

This is dear-bought gain. And so is whatever is procured by hurting our neighbour in his soul; by ministering, suppose, either directly or indirectly, to his unchastity, or intemperance, which certainly none can do, who has any fear of God, or any real desire of pleasing Him. It nearly concerns all those to consider this, who have anything to do with taverns, victualling-houses, opera-houses, play-houses, or any other places of public, fashionable diversion. If these profit the souls of men, you are clear; your employment is good, and your gain innocent; but if they are either sinful in themselves, or natural inlets to sin of various kinds, then, it is to be feared, you have a sad account to make. O beware, lest God say in that day, “These have perished in their iniquity, but their blood do I require at thy hands!” [Ezek 3:18, 20; 33:6, 8]

John Wesley, 17 Feb. 1744*, Sermons, ‘On the Use of Money’, section 6.

I tell you there is poison in it! and, therefore, beg you to throw it away

You see the wine when it sparkles in the cup [Prov. 23:31], and are going to drink of it. I tell you there is poison in it! and, therefore, beg you to throw it away. You answer, “The wine is harmless in itself.” I reply, Perhaps it is so; but still if it be mixed with what is not harmless, no one in his senses, if he knows it at least, unless he could separate the good from the bad, will once think of drinking it. If you add, “It is not poison to me, though it be to others;” then I say, Throw it away for thy brother’s sake, lest thou embolden him to drink also. Why should thy strength occasion thy weak brother to perish, for whom Christ died? [1 Cor. 8:11] Now let anyone judge which is the uncharitable person: He who pleads against the wine or the diversion, for his brother’s sake; or he who pleads against the life of his brother, for the sake of the wine or the diversions.

All the doubt there can be is: “Is there poison in this diversion which is supposed to be harmless in itself?” To clear this up, let us, First, observe the notorious lying that is always joined with it; the various kinds of over-reaching and cheating; the horrid oaths and curses that constantly accompany it, wherewith the name of our Lord God, blessed for ever, is blasphemed. When or where was this diversion ever known without these dreadful consequences? Who was ever one day present at one of these entertainments, without being himself a witness to some of these? And surely these alone, had we no other ill consequences to charge upon this diversion, are enough, till a way is found to purge it from them, to make both God and all wise men to abhor it.

John Wesley, 3 Sep. 1732*, Sermons, ‘On Public Diversions’.

In the meantime what we are afraid of is this: — lest any should use the phrase, “The righteousness of Christ,” or, “The righteousness of Christ is imputed to me,” as a cover for his unrighteousness. We have known this done a thousand times. A man has been reproved, suppose for drunkenness: “O”, said he, “I pretend to no righteousness of my own; Christ is my righteousness.” Another has been told, that “the extortioner, the unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God:” [1 Cor. 6:10] He replies, with all assurance, “I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ.”

John Wesley, 24 Nov. 1765*, Sermons, ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’, section 19.

Deadly Poison: Prohibiting it forever! by John Wesley

…concerning the present scarcity of provisions… Why are thousands of people starving, perishing for want, in every part of England…?

Why is breadcorn so dear? Because such immense, quantities of it are continually consumed by distilling. Indeed, an eminent distiller, near London, hearing this, warmly replied: “Nay, my partner and I generally distil but a thousand quarters of corn a week!” Perhaps so. Suppose five-and-twenty distillers, in and near the town, consume each only the same quantity. Here are five-and-twenty thousand quarters a week, that is, above twelve hundred and fifty thousand quarters a year, consumed in and about London! Add the distillers throughout England, and have we not reason to believe that half of the wheat produced in the kingdom is every year consumed, not by so harmless a way as throwing it into the sea; but by converting it into deadly poison—poison that naturally destroys, not only the strength and life, but also the morals of our countrymen!

“Well, but this brings in a large revenue to the king.” Is this an equivalent for the lives of his subjects? Would his majesty sell a hundred thousand of his subjects yearly to Algiers for four hundred thousand pounds? Surely no. Will he then sell them for that sum, to be butchered by their own countrymen? — But otherwise the swine for the navy cannot be fed! Not unless they are fed with human flesh? not unless they are fatted with human blood? O tell it not in Constantinople, that the English raise the royal revenue by selling the blood and flesh of their countrymen! …

But how can the price of wheat be reduced? By prohibiting for ever that bane of health, that destroyer of strength, of life, and of virtue, distilling. Perhaps this alone will answer the whole design…

I am, sir, your humble servant, JOHN WESLEY.

John Wesley, 9 Dec. 1772, To the Editor of Lloyd’s Evening Post, Thoughts on the Present Scarcity of Provisions.

*Dates for Wesley’s sermons may be from earlier editions, not necessarily the same editions cited here.

William Booth recalls John Wesley’s early influence on him: “To me there was one God and John Wesley was his prophet. I had devoured the story of his life.” (Mr. Booth cited by Frederick Booth Tucker, 1872, The Life of Catherine Booth: The Mother of the Salvation, p. 74)

2 thoughts on ““Word to a Drunkard” & John Wesley on alcohol”

  1. Bishop Sunday Eze

    I so much cherish John Wesley’s teachings on alcoholic drinks. But why is it that Methodist people of today are no longer adhering to that godly teaching from the scriptures? Have we not deviated from what makes us (Methodist people) distinctive from those people who drink. Even in many places we now use alcoholic wine for holy Eucharist. Is because we are becoming lapse or we are regretting the teachings which we know are godly and biblically and doctrinally sound? Let the Methodists go back to their roots and show the world the light of the gospel. We should no longer compromise our long cherished godly teachings on alcoholic drinks.

  2. Very Rev Dr Samuel C. Nwankwo

    Great teaching from a man who distinguished himself in such a way that is yet to be equalled. There is poison in alcoholic beverages. Methodists and non-Methodists alike are to refrain from it.

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