“Rule of Life”

TITLE: "Rule of Life" ("Do All the Good You Can")
AUTHOR: Attributed to John Wesley
COMPOSER: Edward V. Bonnemere; born February 15, 1921; died Teaneck, NJ, March 19, 1996
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3117
TOPIC: blessing, sacrifice, discipleship and service, daily life, guidance, Holiness


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.

and its variant:

Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
To all the souls you can,
In every place you can,
At all the times you can,
With all the zeal you can,
As long as ever you can.

This statement is commonly referred to as "John Wesley's Rule" or as in Worship & Song, "Rule of Life," and is frequently attributed to Wesley. However, according to Richard Heitzenrater, Professor of Church History and Wesleyan Studies at Duke Divinity School, there is no evidence that Wesley ever wrote the rule. Nevertheless, it is an admirable aphorism and in full agreement with Wesley's teachings and writings. The statement calls us to holy living and acts of justice and mercy.


Edward Bonnemere's melody makes use of several jazz and pop motives. The harmonies are also of a popular style. Each short phrase successively builds in pitch as it rises to a climax on "to all the people you can" as the melodic line begins its descent and slides through its final triplet pattern. The melody, which has been active and has made good use of shorter note values, now slows and broadens, with longer note values, ties and leaps as it moves to the cadence.

The music suggests two performances: one, a slow ballad style with sustained chords or modest arpeggios as accompaniment. The other might be to retain the slow ballad style with lyrical lines and sustained phrasing in the melody, but to accompany it with a distinctly rhythmic accompaniment pattern, perhaps even a Latin rhythm.

Biographical Information

Edward V. Bonnemere, African American and Roman Catholic, enjoyed a rich and varied musical career that included teaching music for thirty-five years in the New York City public schools, retiring in January 1984. He also performed as a jazz pianist, church musician, and music composer. Much of his sacred music is in the jazz idiom, and he was a pioneer in introducing the world to jazz liturgical music. In 1976-77, he composed his first jazz Mass for St. Charles Roman Catholic Church in New York City. From 1966-83, he played piano for jazz vespers at St. Peter's Lutheran Church and served as organist at St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church in New York City. New York's Cardinal Cooke presented Bonnemere with two awards for his musical efforts, according to his wife Cleo, "one from the Black Catholics, the other through the Handmaids of Mary." With a band and a choir, Bonnemere gave workshops in Connecticut and North Carolina and elsewhere in his post-retirement years. Edward and Cleo Bonnemere lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, where he died in 1996 and she in 1997.


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