[The following passage is from John Wesley, a biography of the founder of Methodism by Arnold Lunn, published in 1929.]
From his mother John Wesley inherited his iron will. He had none of his father’s sense of humour, but he had his mother’s sense of irony, which is as common as humour is rare among great religious leaders. The man whom fate has selected for religious leadership is indeed unlikely to succeed if his sense of vocation is disturbed by a sense of humour. He must never for a moment doubt the importance of his mission, or his own supreme fitness to impress his gospel on his generation. For humour is an elfin sprite which pokes fun at movements and men, and which loves to insinuate subtle doubts as to the supreme importance of anything or anybody. The man whose emotional reactions are complicated by humour is apt to suspect his own credentials as a prophet of the Most High. And such suspicion is fatal to effectiveness.
Irony, on the other hand, is an asset to the prophet, for it helps him to see life sub specie aeternitatis, and to detect the folly of attaching undue importance to the little things which bulk so large in little lives. Irony exalts the eternal by emphasising the absurdity of the ephemeral. Humour derogates from the eternal by suggesting that there is a funny side even to eternity.
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