John Wesley, credit: Daniel X. O’Neil

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.

Wesley did not say this.

I came across this frequently misattributed quote while reading Richard P. Heitzenrater’s chapter, “‘Unity, Liberty, Charity’ in the Wesleyan Heritage.” in the book Unity, Liberty, and Charity: Building Bridges under Icy Waters, edited by Donald E. Messer and William J. Abraham.

After a detailed search in Wesley’s writings for this quote, Heitzenrater found “the saying was not used by Wesley.” (29) Heitzenrater wrote the book on Wesley and the People Called Methodists, so this is good enough for me.

There is no record in Wesley’s published writings of him saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.” We should stop saying that he did.

Check out the comments for helpful discussion of where the quote originated.

As with all of these quotes, my purpose here is not to contest the idea found in the quote. In other words, I am not arguing against the sentiment. I want to encourage historical accuracy and greater care in attributing sayings to historical figures.

This is the first post in a series of posts on quotes that are commonly attributed to Wesley that he did not actually say. Here are several other quotes misattributed to John Wesley:

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.

I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.

Personal and social holiness

Holy conferencing

Be present at our table, Lord…

Do you want to know if Wesley did actually say something that is attributed to him? Check out Did Wesley Really Say That? (Here’s How to Find Out).

Kevin M. Watson teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Connect with Kevin. Get future posts emailed to you. This post was updated on April 25, 2020. Affiliate links used in this post.