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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

A LETTER TO A ROMAN CATHOLIC - John Wesley in Modern English

Updated: Apr 17

This is John Wesley's famous letter to a Roman Catholic, seeking clear understanding, respect, and peace between the Methodist and Protestant sides, translated into modern English. For an index of John Wesley's greatest sermons and writings in modern English, click here.

Letter to a Roman Catholic - John Wesley writing in modern english


I am sure you have heard ten thousand stories about us who are Protestants, and if you believe even one in a thousand, you must think very badly of us. But this is contrary to our Lord’s rule, “Judge not, that ye be not judged;” and has many harmful results; especially that it leads us to think just as badly of you. We are then both less willing to help one another and more ready to hurt each other. As a result, brotherly love is completely destroyed; and each side, seeing the other as monsters, surrenders to anger, hatred, malice, and every unkind action; which have frequently resulted in practices so inhuman, they are rarely found even among the heathens.

Can anything be done, while allowing each of us to retain our own opinions, for the softening of our hearts toward one another, stopping this flood of unkindness and restoring at least some degree of love among our neighbors and countrymen? Do you not also want this? Are you not fully convinced that malice, hatred, revenge, and bitterness, whether in our hearts or yours, are an abomination to the Lord? Whether our opinions are right or wrong, these tempers are undeniably wrong. They are the broad road that leads to destruction, to the deepest hell.

I do not pretend that all the bitterness is on your side. I know there is too much on our side also. I fear that many Protestants (so-called) will be angry at me as well for writing to you in this manner; and will say, “It is showing them too much favor; they deserve no such treatment from us.”

But I think you do. I think you deserve the most tender regard I can show, even if it were only because the same God has formed you and me from the dust of the earth, and has made us both capable of loving and enjoying Him eternally; even if it were only because the Son of God has bought you and me with His own blood. And how much more, if you are a person who fears God (as many of you are), and tries to have a conscience free of offense towards both God and man?

I will try then, as inoffensively as I can, to remove some of the reasons for your unkindness, by clearly stating what our belief and practice is; so that you can see that we are not all the monsters you have imagined us to be. A true Protestant will express his belief in words similar to these: 

Just as I am assured that there is an infinite and independent Being, and that it is impossible for there to be more than one; so I believe that this One God is the Father of all things, especially of angels and men; that He is, in a special sense, the Father of those whom He regenerates by His Spirit, whom He adopts in his Son, as co-heirs with Him, and crowns with an eternal inheritance; but He is also, in an even higher sense, the Father of His only Son, whom He has begotten from eternity. I believe this Father of all is not only able to do as He pleases, but also has an eternal right to make whatever, whenever and however He pleases, freely possessing or disposing of all that He has made; and that He, out of his own goodness, created heaven and earth and all that is in them.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Savior of the world, the long-awaited Messiah; that, being anointed with the Holy Spirit, He was a Prophet, revealing to us the complete will of God; that He was a Priest who gave himself as a sacrifice for sin and still intercedes for sinners; that He is a King who has all power in heaven and on earth and will reign until He has brought all things under himself. I believe He is the proper, natural Son of God, God of God, very God of very God; and that He is the Lord of all, having absolute, supreme, universal dominion over all things; but He is more specially our Lord, the Lord of all who believe in Him, whether by conquest, purchase, and voluntary obligation. I believe that He was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the unique operation of the Holy Spirit, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who both after as well as before she gave birth to Him continued as a pure and unspotted virgin. I believe He was afflicted with inexpressible pain in both body and soul and, at last, suffered the death of the cross, at the time Pontius Pilate governed Judea, under the Roman Emperor; that His body was then laid in the grave, and His soul went to the place of separate spirits; that on the third day He rose again from the dead; that He ascended into heaven; where He remains at the throne of God, in the highest power and glory, as Mediator until the end of the world, as God to all eternity; and that, in the end, He will come down from heaven to judge every man according to his works; both those who will be alive then, and all who died before that day.


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I believe the infinite and eternal Spirit of God, equal with the Father and the Son, to be not only perfectly holy in himself, but the direct cause of all holiness in us; enlightening our understandings, correcting our wills and affections, renewing our natures, uniting our persons to Christ, assuring us of our adoption as sons, leading us in our actions; purifying and sanctifying our souls and bodies, to a full and eternal enjoyment of God.

I believe that Christ, by His apostles, gathered to himself a Church, to which He has continually added those who will be saved; that this catholic, or universal Church, extending to all nations and all ages, is holy in all its members who have fellowship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that these have fellowship with the holy angels, who constantly minister to these heirs of salvation; and with all the living members of Christ on earth, as well as all who have passed away in His faith and fear. 

I believe God forgives all the sins of those who truly repent and genuinely believe His holy gospel; and that, at the last day, all men will rise again, each one with his own body. I believe that even as the unjust will, after their resurrection, be tormented in hell forever, so the just will enjoy inconceivable happiness in the presence of God for all eternity.

Now, is there anything wrong in this? Is there any one point in which you do not believe as strongly as we do? But you think we ought to believe more. We will not enter into that dispute now. Only let me ask, if a man sincerely believes this much, and practices accordingly, can anyone possibly persuade you to think that such a man will perish eternally?

Perhaps you ask, “But does he practice accordingly?” If he does not, we acknowledge that all his faith will not save him. And this leads me to show you, in a few clear words, what the practice of a true Protestant is. I say a true Protestant; for I disown all common swearers, Sabbath-breakers, drunkards; all whoremongers, liars, cheats, and extortioners; in short, all that live in open sin. These are not Protestants; they are not Christians at all. Give them their own name: they are heathens. They are the curse of the nation, the poison of society, the shame of mankind, the scum of the earth.

A true Protestant believes in God, has full confidence in His mercy, fears Him with a son’s reverence, and loves Him with all his soul. He worships God in spirit and in truth, gives thanks to Him in everything; calls on Him with his heart as well as his lips, at all times and in all places; honors His holy name and His word, and serves Him all the days of his life. Now, do you not approve of this yourself? Is there any one point you can condemn? And do you not practice as well as approve of it? Can you ever be happy if you do not? Can you ever expect true peace in this world, or glory in the world to come, if you do not believe in God through Christ, and if you do not fear and love God in this way? My dear friend, please understand that I am not trying to persuade you to leave or change your religion, but to follow after that fear of and love for God without which all religion is vain. I will not say a word to you about your opinions or outward manner of worship. But I will say that all worship is an offense to the Lord unless you worship Him in spirit and in truth; with your heart, as well as your lips; with your spirit, and also with your understanding. Let your form of worship be what it will, but give Him thanks in everything; or else it is all a wasted effort. Use whatever outward observances you please, but put all of your trust in him. Honor His holy name and His word, and serve Him all the days of your life.

Further, a true Protestant loves his neighbor as himself; that is, he loves every man, whether friend or enemy, good or bad, just as he loves his own soul, even as Christ loved us. And as Christ laid down His life for us, so he is ready to lay down his life for his brothers. He shows this love by doing to all men as he wants them to do to him. He loves, honors, and obeys his father and mother, and helps them to the best of his ability. He honors and obeys the king, and all that are in authority under him. He gladly submits to all his governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters. He behaves humbly and respectfully toward those of a higher class than himself. He hurts no one either in word or deed. He is true and just in all his dealings. He holds no malice or hatred in his heart. He keeps himself from all evil speaking, lying, and slandering; neither is he deceitful. Knowing his body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, he keeps it in soberness, self-control, and purity. He does not desire other men’s possessions; but is content with what he has. He works for his own living, and to do the complete will of God in that state of life to which God has called him.

  • Do you see anything here that needs correction?

  • Are you not the same as he is in these things? If not (tell the truth), are you not condemned both by God and your own conscience?

  • Can you fall short in any of these points without falling short of being a Christian? Come, my brother, and let us reason together.

  • Are you right if you only love your friend and hate your enemy? Do not even the heathens and publicans do as much? You are called to love your enemies; to bless those who curse you, and to pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you. But are you obedient to the heavenly calling?

  • Does your tender love to all men, not only the good, but also the evil, confirm that you are child of your Father which is in heaven? Otherwise, no matter what you may believe or practice, you are of your father the devil.

  • Are you ready to lay down your life for your brothers? And do you do to all as you want them to do to you? If not, do not deceive yourself: you are still only a heathen.

  • Do you love, honor, and obey your father and mother, and help them to the best of your ability?

  • Do you honor and obey all in authority, all your governors, spiritual pastors, and masters?

  • Do you behave humbly and respectfully toward those of a higher class than yourself?

  • Do you hurt no one either in word or deed? Are you true and just in all your dealings?

  • Do you pay whatever you owe?

  • Do you feel any malice, or envy, or revenge, any hatred or bitterness toward any man? If you do, it is clear that you are not of God, for all these are tempers of the devil.

  • Do you speak the truth from your heart to all men, in tenderness and love?

  • Do you keep your body in soberness, self-control, and purity, knowing it is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that, if any man defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him? Have you learned to be content in every circumstance?

  • Do you work for your own living, abhorring laziness as you do the fires of hell? The devil tempts men; but a lazy man tempts the devil. A lazy man’s brain is the devil’s shop, where he is continually working mischief.

  • Are you diligent in business? Whatever your hand finds to do, do you do it with all your strength? And do you do it all as for the Lord, as a sacrifice to God, acceptable in Christ Jesus?

This alone is the old religion. This is true, original Christianity. When will it spread over all the earth? When will it be found both in us and you? Without waiting for others, let each of us, by the grace of God, correct ourselves.

Do we not agree on this much? Let us thank God for this, and receive it as a fresh example of His love. And if God loves us, we ought to love one another. We should, without this endless noise about opinions, motivate one another to love and to do good works. Let the points in which we differ stand aside; here are enough in which we agree, enough to be the basis of every Christian attitude and action. Brothers, let us not still argue along the way! I hope to see you in heaven. If I practice the religion described above, you do not dare say I will go to hell. You cannot think so. Your own conscience tells you the opposite. If we cannot think alike in all things, at least we may love alike. We cannot possibly do wrong in this. For one point no one can doubt: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”


In the name and in the strength of God, let us resolve:

  • First, not to hurt one another; to do nothing unkind or unfriendly to each other, nothing which we would not want done to ourselves. Instead, let us try to demonstrate kind, friendly, and Christian behavior towards each other.

  • Second, let us resolve not to speak harshly or unkindly of each other. The sure way to avoid this is to say all the good we can, both of and to one another. In all our conversation, let us use only the language of love; speaking with the most affectionate expressions that are consistent with truth and sincerity.

  • Third, let us resolve to keep no unkind thought, no unfriendly attitude, towards each other. Let us examine all that arises in our hearts, and allow no attitude to remain that is contrary to tender affection. Then we will easily keep from unkind actions and words, once the very source of bitterness is removed.

  • Fourth, let us try to help each other forward in whatever we agree leads to the kingdom. To the extent that we are able, let us always find joy in strengthening each other’s hands in God.

  • Above all, let us each one watch himself (since each must give an account of himself to God), so that he does not fall short of the religion of love.

Let you and I (no matter what others may do) press on toward the prize of our high calling! So that, being justified by faith, we may have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may rejoice in God through Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement; and so that the love of God may be poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. Let us count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord; being ready to lose all things for His sake, considering them only dung, that we may win Christ. 


About the Editor:

dr. steven gibson

Dr. Stephen Gibson is president of Evangelistic Faith Missions and director of Holiness Pilgrim Mission. He is married, with six children and eight grandchildren.

His ministry has included pastoring, foreign mission work, Bible college teaching and administration, Christian school teaching and administration, and writing. He pastored Victory Chapel, a diverse inner-city church in Indianapolis, for five years.  

He lived in Ukraine with his family for five years and served Kiev Wesley Bible College in the roles of professor, academic dean, and president. During that time he also taught classes at other colleges and preached in churches in Ukraine and Russia.

He graduated from Union Bible College with a Th.B., from Wesley Biblical Seminary with an M.A. in Theology, from Louisiana Baptist University with an M.A. in Biblical Studies, and from Grace Theological Seminary with a D. Min.

Books written by Gibson include The Prosperity Prophets; Steps of Grace; The Sincerity of God: A Demonstration of the Wesleyan Promise Hermeneutic; Help from the Little Red Hen: Reversing Poverty with Responsibility; and Cultivate: A Discipleship Lesson Series.

Books edited by Gibson include I Believe: Fundamentals of the Christian Faith and A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century.

Gibson is a board member and writer for Shepherds Global Classroom.  His courses include Christian Beliefs, Faith Traditions of the World, Biblical Evangelism and Discipleship, and Ministry Leadership.

To order Dr. Gibson's writings, feel free to contact him through email.

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