Below is an excerpt from Mr. Wesley’s pamphlet, Thoughts on a Single Life, first published in 1743 and reissued with minor changes in 1784. As presented here, two paragraphs — identified by brackets — have been added from his comments on Matthew 16:24 in Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.
For easier reading, the wording has been slightly updated to conform to modern usage. (Links to the full text of the pamphlet and to the Matthew 16 section of the Notes are included in the links area below.)
Persons may be as holy in a married as in a single state. Indeed, the Holy Ghost says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4).
And yet we must not forget what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:
I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am…. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned…. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh….
I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife…. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband.
And this I say for your own profit…that you may serve the Lord without distraction. (1 Corinthians 7:8, 28, 32-35)
Though “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” (1 Cor. 7:1), this is not an universal rule. “I wish,” says the apostle, “that all men were even as I myself.” But that cannot be; for “each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).
This is exactly agreeable to this are the words of our Lord. When the disciples said to him (after he taught on marriage and divorce), “If the case be so, it is good not to marry,” he said to them:
All cannot receive this saying, but those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb and there are who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.
He who is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matthew 19:10-12)
Focused on God
To those able to “receive this saying,” I say: Know the advantages you enjoy — many of which are pointed out by the apostle above.
You may be without care. You are under no necessity of “caring for the things of the world.” You have only to “care for the things of the Lord, how you may please the Lord.” One care alone lies upon you, how you “may be holy both in body and spirit.”
You enjoy a blessed liberty from the “trouble in the flesh,” which must more or less attend a married state, from a thousand nameless domestic trials which are found, sooner or later, in every family.
Above all, you are at liberty from the greatest of all entanglements: the loving of one creature above all others. It is possible to do this without any impeachment of our love to God, but how inconceivably difficult it is to give one’s whole heart to God while another has so large a share of it!
Whereas those who are married are necessarily taken up with the things of the world, you may give your time to God without interruption, and need ask leave of none but yourself so to do.
You may give all your worldly substance to God — nothing need hinder. You have no increasing family to provide for, which might occasion a thousand doubts whether you had done either too much or too little for them. You may lay out all your talents of every kind entirely for the glory of God, as you have none else to please, none to regard, but Him that lived and died for you.
Take up your cross daily
If you know and duly prize these advantages you enjoy, be careful to keep them. But know that this is impossible to do by your own strength. You have need to use every help.
The first of these is earnest prayer. Let no day pass without this, without praying for this very thing — that God would work what with men is impossible.
A second help may be frequent and free conversation with those of your own sex who are like-minded. By this means a thousand devices of Satan will be brought to nought.
Above all, “keep your heart with all diligence.” Check the first risings of desire. Let no “vain thought lodge within you.” Cry out, “My God and my all, I am alone! Bring my ‘every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.’”
How shall you preserve this strength and firmness of spirit? Avoid with the utmost care all softness and effeminacy, remembering the express denunciation of an inspired writer that the soft or effeminate “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Avoid all sloth, inactivity, indolence. Be never idle. Keep at the utmost distance from foolish desires, from desiring any happiness but in God.
It is not possible to avoid all pleasure, and God does not require this. On the contrary, he “giveth us all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), so we enjoy them to his glory. But I say avoid all pleasure that in anyway hinders you from enjoying him — yea, all such pleasure as does not prepare you for taking pleasure in God.
Add to this constant and continued course of universal self-denial the taking up your cross daily, the enduring “hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). The Lord will uphold you with his hand.
[Indeed, if any will follow Christ, the very first step is to deny himself — to substitute the will of God in the place of his own will as his overriding principle of action.
Let him in all things deny his own will, however pleasing, and do the will of God, however painful. Should we not consider all crosses, all things grievous to flesh and blood, as what they really are — as opportunities of embracing God's will at the expense of our own? We should approve and choose what his choice warrants as best for us.]
Upon the whole, without disputing whether the married or single life be the more perfect state — an idle dispute, since perfection does not consist in any outward state whatever, but in an absolute devotion of all our heart and all our life to God — we may safely say, “Blessed are ‘those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’”
|•||A word from Mr. Wesley: The sure cornerstone of our faith|
|•||A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The way to the kingdom’|
|•||A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’|
|•||A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’|
|•||Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’|
|•||Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988|
|•||Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’|
|•||Judicial Council asked to revisit Decision 1032, allow homosexual clergy to marry|
|•||In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching|
|•||In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy|
|•||Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’|
|•||Thoughts on a Single Life (full text) | From The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. (1835) (via Google Books)|
|•||Notes on Matthew 16 (full text) | John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, Wesley Center Online|