John Wesley- English Priest, Philosopher, and Evangelist
John Wesley- English Priest, Philosopher, and Evangelist
John Wesley was an English priest, philosopher, and evangelist who lived from June 28 (O.S. June 17) 1703 to March 2, 1791. He was the leader of Methodism, a revival movement in the Church of England. The independent Methodist movement is still going strong today because of the groups he set up.
Wesley went to Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, for his education. In 1726, he was chosen to be a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, and two years later, he was ordained as an Anglican priest. At Oxford, he was in charge of the “Holy Club,” which was a group that studied and tried to live a good Christian life. After two years of trying to help people in Savannah, Georgia, but not being successful, he went back to London and joined a religious group led by Moravian Christians. On May 24, 1738, he had what is now known as his religious conversion. After that, he stopped being a Moravian and started his own mission.
Wesley’s ministry grew a lot when he went on the road and preached outside, accepting Arminian ideas. As he traveled around Great Britain and Ireland, he helped set up and run small Christian groups called “societies.” These groups focused on personal discipleship, responsibility, and religious education. He sent women and men who were not ordained preachers on the road to take care of these groups of people. Under Wesley’s leadership, Methodists became leaders in many important social problems of the time, such as ending slavery and supporting women preachers.
Wesley fought for the idea of Christian perfection and against Calvinism, even though he was not a systematic theologian. His evangelicalism, which was strongly based in sacramental theology, held that means of grace sometimes played a role in making a believer holy. However, he taught that a believer was changed into the image of Christ by faith. He thought that Christians could reach a point in this life where God’s love “ruled supreme in their hearts,” making them holy both on the outside and on the inside. Wesley’s beliefs, which together are called “Wesleyan theology,” are still a big part of what Methodist churches believe.
Wesley stayed in the established Church of England his whole life and insisted that the Methodist movement fit right in with its history.Wesley was not allowed to speak in many parish churches when he first started his ministry, and the Methodists were persecuted. Over time, he gained a lot of respect, and by the end of his life, he was called “the most loved man in England.”
John Wesley was born on June 28, 1703, 23 miles (37 km) north-west of Lincoln, in a place called Epworth. He was the 15th child of Samuel Wesley and Susanna Wesley, whose maiden name was Annesley. Samuel Wesley went to the University of Oxford and became a poet. He became the rector of Epworth in 1696. In 1689, he married Susanna, the twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a minister who did not agree with the church. In the end, she had nineteen children, but only nine of them lived past childhood. Both she and Samuel Wesley joined the Church of England when they were young adults.
Wesley’s parents sent him to school when he was young, like most parents did at the time. Every child, boys and girls alike, learned to read as soon as they turned five. They were supposed to learn Latin and Greek well and know large parts of the New Testament by heart. Susanna Wesley looked at each child before lunch and before prayers in the evening. The kids weren’t allowed to eat between meals, and their mother would talk to each of them alone one night a week to teach them a lot about their faith. Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London when he was 11 years old. From 1715 on, John King was in charge of the school. There, Wesley lived the same kind of serious, methodical, and for a while, holy life that he had been taught at home.
The young John Wesley was saved from the burning church. Samuel William Reynolds’s mezzotint.
Wesley was raised in a strict way, but a fire at the rectory on February 9, 1709, when he was five years old, left a lasting impact. After 11 pm, the roof of the house caught fire. Sparks falling on the children’s beds and shouts of “fire” from the street woke up the Wesleys. They got all of their children out of the house except for John, who was stuck on an upper floor. Wesley was pulled out of a window by a neighbor standing on the shoulders of another man. The stairs were on fire and the roof was about to fall in. Wesley later used Zechariah 3:2’s words “a brand plucked out of the fire” to describe the event. This miracle happened to Wesley when he was a child, and it became part of his legend, showing that he had a special fate and did amazing work. Between 1716 and 1717, people said that Epworth Rectory was haunted. This also had an effect on Wesley. The Wesley family said that they often heard noises and sometimes saw ghostly figures that they thought were made by a ghost they called “Old Jeffery.”
Christ Church is the center of the Diocese of Oxford, the church of Wesley’s college, and the place where he was ordained.
Wesley went to Christ Church, Oxford, in June 1720. Wesley stayed at Christ Church to get his master’s degree after he graduated in 1724.
On September 25, 1725, he was given holy orders, which was a requirement for becoming a fellow and a teacher at the university. On March 17, 1726, Wesley was chosen by everyone at Lincoln College, Oxford, to be a fellow. This gave him the right to a place at the college and a steady paycheck. While he was still in school, he taught Greek and philosophy, gave talks on the New Testament, and led daily debates at the university. But a call to the church got in the way of his studies. After getting his master’s degree in August 1727, Wesley went back to Epworth. His father had asked him to help take care of the nearby cure of Wroot. Wesley became a priest on September 22, 1728. For the next two years, he worked as a church curate.
In the year he was ordained, he read Thomas à Kempis and Jeremy Taylor, which showed his interest in mysticism. He also started to look for the religious truths that led to the 18th-century renaissance. He said that reading William Law’s Christian Perfection and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life gave him a higher view of God’s law. He then decided to keep it as strictly as possible, both inside and outside, because he believed that loyalty would lead to salvation. He lived a very strict, methodical, and abstemious life. He read the Bible, did his religious duties, and deprived himself so he could give charity. He began to try to make his heart and life holy.
In November 1729, Wesley went back to Oxford at the request of the Rector of Lincoln College. He did this to keep his position as a junior fellow.
During Wesley’s time away from Christ Church, his younger brother Charles (1707–88) enrolled there. Together with two other students, he started a small club to study and try to live a good Christian life. When Wesley came back, he took over as the leader of the group, which grew in size and dedication. The group got together every day from 6 to 9 to pray, read psalms, and talk about the Greek New Testament. They prayed every hour for a few minutes, and each day they prayed for a different good trait. Even though they were only supposed to go to church three times a year, they took Communion every Sunday. As was usual in the early church, they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays until nones, which is three o’clock in the afternoon. In 1730, the group started going to see people who were in jail. They taught, preached, and helped debtors in jail when they could. They also took care of the sick.
Since faith in Oxford was low at the time, it wasn’t surprising that Wesley’s group was met with hostility. People thought of them as religious “enthusiasts,” which at the time meant they were religious freaks. They were called the “Holy Club” by jokesters in college. After one of the group’s members, William Morgan, went crazy and died, there was a big fuss about the group. Wesley said that Morgan had stopped fasting a year and a half before his death to counter the claim that his “rigorous fasting” had sped up his death. In the same message, which was widely read, Wesley said that “some of our neighbors are happy to compliment us with the name “Methodist.” In 1732, an unidentified author wrote a pamphlet called “The Oxford Methodists” about Wesley and his group and used this name to describe them. This government, on the other hand, was not free of problems. Thomas Blair was found guilty of sodomy in 1732, and the Holy Club helped and cared for him. Blair was well-known in the town and among the other inmates, but Wesley kept helping him.
Wesley was religious on the outside, but he also tried to be holy on the inside, or at least sincere, as proof that he was a true Christian. In 1730, he made a list of “General Questions.” By 1734, he had turned this list into a complicated grid in which he logged his daily activities hour by hour, the resolutions he broke or kept, and his “temper of devotion” on a scale from 1 to 9. Wesley also thought that the fact that he and his group were looked down on was a sign of a true Christian. In a message to his father, he said, “No man is saved until he is treated this way.”
Visit Savannah, Georgia.
Wesley’s statue in Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Wesley and his brother Charles set sail on The Simmonds from Gravesend, Kent, for Savannah, Georgia, in the Province of Georgia, in the American colonies, on October 14, 1735, at the request of James Oglethorpe, who had started the colony in 1733 on behalf of the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. Wesley was asked by Oglethorpe to be the priest of the new Savannah parish. Savannah was a new town built according to the famous Oglethorpe Plan.
On their way to the colonies, the Wesleys met some Moravian residents for the first time. Wesley was influenced by their strong religion and pietistic spirituality. During the journey, there was a storm that broke the ship’s mast. While the English were scared, the Moravians sang songs and said prayers in a calm way. This made Wesley think that the Moravians had inner strength that he didn’t have. The highly personal religion that the Moravian pietists practiced had a big impact on Wesley and can be seen in his theology of Methodism.
An engraving by an unknown artist that is generally called “John Wesley Preaching to the Indians.”
Wesley arrived in the colony in February 1736 and lived for a year at the parsonage that stood where the Oliver Sturges House is now. He was a High Churchman who saw the Georgia mission as a chance to revive “primitive Christianity” in a primitive setting. His main goal was to evangelize the Native Americans, but there weren’t enough clergy in the colony to do that, so he mostly worked with European settlers in Savannah. Wesley’s preaching is often seen as a failure compared to his later success as a leader of the Evangelical Revival. However, he was able to bring together a group of dedicated Christians who met in a number of small religious societies. During the nearly two years he was the parish priest at Christ Church, the number of people who went to Communion also went up.
Still, the colonists didn’t like Wesley’s High Church mission, and it ended in disappointment when he fell in love with a young woman named Sophia (or Sophy) Hopkey. He wasn’t sure if he should marry her because he thought his first job in Georgia was to be a missionary to the Native Americans, and he was interested in the practice of clerical celibacy in early Christianity. After she got married to William Williamson, Wesley thought Sophia’s old passion for practicing her Christian faith had faded. Wesley didn’t let her take Communion because the rules of the Book of Common Prayer said she had to tell him in advance if she wanted to take it. As a result, he was sued, and it didn’t look like there would be a clear outcome. Wesley left the colony on December 22, 1737, and went back to England.
Many people agree that Wesley’s release of a Collection of Psalms and Hymns was one of the most important things he did on his mission in Georgia. The Collection was the first Anglican songbook to be printed in the United States. It was also the first of many hymnals that Wesley would print. It had five German songs that he had translated.
Wesley’s troubled mind
Wesley was going through a lot of mental turmoil after he left Georgia. He had time to think about his own religious beliefs on the trip back to England. He found that, even though he had promised to follow Christ, he wasn’t happy with his spiritual health and didn’t feel ready to teach. This was especially true after he saw how confidently the Moravians shared their faith. Wesley met Peter Boehler, who was a Moravian missionary. Wesley talked to Boehler about his problems. Boehler told Wesley to “preach faith until you have it” Wesley started teaching new ideas that many churches had never heard before, so many churches asked him not to come back. This was the start of the next part of his work as a preacher.
Wesley came back to England sad and hurt. At this point, he went to the Moravians for help. He and Charles both got advice from Peter Boehler, who was in England while he waited for permission to leave for Georgia. Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience” on May 24, 1738, at a Moravian meeting in London’s Aldersgate Street, where he heard a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, changed the way he did ministry.  The week before, he was very moved by John Heylyn’s sermon at St. Mary le Strand, where he was helping out. He had heard the choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral sing Psalm 130 earlier that day. In Psalm 130, the Psalmist calls out to God, “Out of the depths.”
But Wesley was still sad when he went to a service on the evening of May 24. Wesley wrote in his diary about his time at Aldersgate:
“In the evening, I went very reluctantly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where someone was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was talking about how God changes the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warm. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and I was given the assurance that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death
A few weeks later, Wesley gave a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith. This was followed by a sermon on God’s grace being “free in all, and free for all.” This is considered a turning point. Daniel L. Burnett writes, “The significance of Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience is monumental… Without it, the names of Wesley and Methodism would likely be nothing more than obscure footnotes in the pages of church history.”
Wesley joined forces with a group of Moravians in Fetter Lane. Wesley went to Germany in August 1738 to study at the Moravian headquarters in Herrnhut, Saxony. When he got back to England, he wrote rules for the “bands” that made up the Fetter Lane Society and published a book of hymns for them. He met often with this and other religious groups in London, but he didn’t preach much that year because most of the parish churches wouldn’t let him in.
George Whitefield, a friend of Wesley’s from Oxford, was also kicked out of the churches of Bristol when he came back from America. When Wesley got to Bristol, the city was full of new industrial and commercial growth. As a result, there were riots and religious problems. In February 1739, Whitefield went to the nearby village of Kingswood and preached in the open air to a group of miners. Later, he preached in Whitefield’s Tabernacle. Wesley was not sure if he should follow Whitefield’s call to do the same thing. In April 1739, Whitefield asked him to give his first lecture in the open air near Bristol. He overcame his fears and did it. Wesley said,
I could hardly get used to Whitefield’s strange way of preaching in the fields, which he showed me on Sunday. I had been so strict about decency and order all my life until recently that I would have thought saving souls was almost a sin if it hadn’t been done in a church.
Wesley didn’t like the idea of speaking in the field because he thought the Anglican liturgy had a lot to offer in how it was done. When he was younger, he would have thought that this way of saving souls was “almost a sin.”  But he realized that the open-air services were effective at reaching people who wouldn’t go into most churches. From then on, he took any chance to preach, even using his father’s tombstone at Epworth as a pulpit. Wesley preached to make people repent, prayed for conversion, dealt with hysterical behavior, and field preached to up to tens of thousands.
Wesley left the Moravians in London at the end of 1739. Wesley helped them set up the Fetter Lane Society, and people who were changed by his preaching, his brother’s preaching, and Whitefield’s preaching joined their bands. But he thought they were wrong to support quietism, so he decided to start his own group. “Thus,” he wrote, “without any plan, the Methodist Society in England began.” He soon started similar groups in Bristol and Kingswood, and Wesley and his friends won over people wherever they went.
Wesley went to Ireland for the first time in 1747 and stayed there until 1789. He didn’t like the Ireland Catholic Church, so he tried to turn the Irish to Methodism. By 1795, over 15,000 people had joined.
Persecutions and speaking on the street
From 1739 on, the church and religious magistrates went after Wesley and the Methodists for different reasons. Wesley had been ordained as an Anglican priest, but many other Methodist leaders had not. Wesley, on the other hand, broke many rules of the Church of England about parish boundaries and who could teach. This was seen as a threat to society that didn’t care about institutions. They were attacked in lectures and in writing, and sometimes mobs would attack them as well. Wesley and the people who followed him kept helping people who were forgotten or in need. They were accused of spreading strange ideas and stirring up religious trouble. They were called blind fanatics who led people wrong, claimed to have miraculous powers, attacked the clergy of the Church of England, and tried to bring back Catholicism.
Wesley thought that the church didn’t do enough to get people to turn away from their sins, that many of the pastors were corrupt, and that people were dying in their sins. He thought that God had given him a mission to bring revival to the church, and that no amount of resistance, persecution, or other problems could stop the divine urgency and authority of this mission. Even his most deeply held beliefs, which were based on his upbringing in the High Church, were not allowed to get in the way.
Wesley saw that he and the few clergy who worked with him couldn’t do all the work that needed to be done. As early as 1739, he felt led to let local preachers do the work. He looked at the men who wanted to speak and do pastoral work but were not ordained by the Anglican Church and gave them his blessing. This growth of lay ministers was an important part of Methodism’s growth.
Chapels and Organisation
“The Foundery” was the name of the first Methodist church.
Wesley’s Chapel was called “City Road Chapel” at first.
As his groups needed places to pray, Wesley started building chapels, first in Bristol at the New Room, then in London (first at The Foundery and then at Wesley’s Chapel) and other places. The Foundery was an early church that Wesley used. An 18th-century map shows that the Foundery is between Tabernacle Street and Worship Street in the Moorfields neighborhood of London. When the Wesleys saw the building on Windmill Hill, north of Finsbury Fields, it had been empty for 23 years. The building, which used to make brass guns and mortars for the Royal Ordnance, had been left empty after an explosion on May 10, 1716.
When it was first built in 1739, the Bristol chapel was in the hands of caretakers. Wesley’s friends urged him to keep control of a large debt, so the deed was canceled and he became the sole trustee. Because of this, all Methodist chapels were put in his care until he gave all his rights to a group of preachers called the “Legal Hundred” through a “deed of declaration.”
When some members of the groups got into trouble, Wesley started giving them tickets with their names written by hand. Every three months, these were re-done. Those who weren’t good enough didn’t get new tickets and just left the group without a fuss. People thought of the tickets as letters of praise.
In the courtyard of the “New Room” church in Bristol, there is a statue of Wesley on a horse. During most of the 1740s and 1750s, Wesley lived in Bristol.
When a chapel’s debt got too big, it was suggested that one out of every 12 members should regularly collect money from the 11 members who were not assigned to him. In 1742, the Methodist class meeting system grew out of this. Wesley set up a trial system to keep people who caused trouble out of the societies. He agreed to visit each group every three months, and this became known as the “quarterly visitation” or “conference.” Wesley couldn’t keep in touch with everyone personally as the number of societies grew, so in 1743 he wrote a set of “General Rules” for the “United Societies.” These became the core of the Methodist Discipline, which is still the foundation of modern Methodism.
Wesley laid the groundwork for how the Methodist Church is organized today. Over time, a changing pattern of societies, circuits, quarterly meetings, annual conferences, classes, bands, and select societies emerged. On a local level, there were many different-sized societies that were put together into circuits, and traveling preachers were sent to those circuits for two-year stints. Circuit leaders met every three months under the direction of a top traveling preacher or “assistant.” Once a year, conferences with Wesley and other traveling preachers were held to coordinate doctrine and discipline for the whole connection. A dozen or so members of the society met once a week with a leader for spiritual direction and fellowship. In the beginning, there were “bands” of spiritually gifted people who tried to be perfect. People who were thought to have made it were put into clubs or groups. In 1744, there were 77 people in this group. There was also a group of penitents made up of people who had gone astray.
As the number of preachers and preaching houses grew, there was a need to talk about doctrinal and administrative issues. In 1744, John and Charles Wesley, along with four other clergy and four lay speakers, met in London to talk. This was the first Methodist conference, and from then on, the Conference, with Wesley as its leader, was in charge of the Methodist movement. Two years later, Wesley put “helpers” in certain circuits to help preachers work more efficiently and make sure societies got services more often. Every month, each route had at least 30 stops. Wesley thought that a preacher would be more effective if he moved from one route to another every year or two. He created the “itinerancy” and made his preachers follow its rules.
John Wesley had strong ties to the North West of England. Between 1733 and 1790, he went to Manchester at least fifteen times. He spoke at St. Ann’s Church and Salford Chapel with his friend John Clayton in 1733 and 1738. Wesley opened a church on Oldham Street in 1781. It was part of the Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Methodist Mission and is now the Methodist Central Hall in Manchester.
After John Wesley got sick in 1748, Grace Murray, a class leader and maid, took care of him at an orphanage in Newcastle. Because he liked Grace, he asked her to go to Ireland with him in 1749. He thought they were engaged, even though they never got married. Some people say that his brother Charles Wesley didn’t like the idea, but this is dispute. Grace later got married to John Bennett, who was a preacher.
Ordination Of Ministers
The Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, has a statue that is the size of a person.
As the number of groups grew, they took on parts of an ecclesiastical system. Wesley and the Church of England grew further apart. Some of his ministers and groups pushed for him to break away from the Church of England, but his brother Charles was the most against it. Wesley refused to leave the Church of England because he thought that, despite its flaws, Anglicanism was “closer to the plans of the Bible than any other in Europe.” In 1745, he wrote that he would make any compromise that his morality would allow to get along with the clergy. He couldn’t give up the idea that salvation comes from within and is immediate through faith alone. He wouldn’t stop preaching, disband the societies, or stop lay people from preaching. In a letter to a friend that same year, he said that he thought it was wrong to give sacraments without being appointed by a bishop.
When Wesley read Lord King’s account of the early church in 1746, he was sure that apostolic succession could be passed down not just through bishops but also through priests. He wrote that he was “a scriptural episkopos as much as many men in England.” He believed in apostolic succession, but he once called the idea of constant succession a “fable.”
The book Irenicon by Edward Stillingfleet made him think that ordination and holy orders could be acceptable even if they were given by a presbyter instead of a bishop. Still, some people think that Erasmus of Arcadia quietly made Wesley a bishop in 1763, and that Wesley could not publicly announce his episcopal consecration without breaking the Praemunire Act.
In 1784, he thought he couldn’t wait any longer for the Bishop of London to ordain someone for the American Methodists, who were without the sacraments after the American War of Independence. The Church of England had been the state church in most of the southern colonies of the United States, but it had been torn down after the war. The Church of England had not yet chosen a bishop from the United States for what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. Wesley put his hands on Thomas Coke and made him the leader of Methodists in the U.S., even though Coke was already a priest in the Church of England. He also made presbyters out of Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey. Whatcoat and Vasey went to America with Coke. Wesley wanted Coke and Francis Asbury, who Wesley told Coke to appoint as director, to appoint other people in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. Wesley was against the change, but Coke and Asbury were able to convince the American Methodists to call them bishops instead of superintendents in 1787.
Charles, his brother, was worried about the ordinations and how Wesley’s views on the issue were changing. He asked Wesley to stop before he “quite broke down the bridge” and “left an indelible blot on our memory.” Wesley replied that he had not left the church and did not plan to, but that he must and would save as many souls as he could while alive, “without being careful about what may happen when I die.”
Doctrines, theology and advocacy
Wesley giving a sermon to his helpers in London at the City Road Chapel, which is now called Wesley’s Chapel. Detail from a print by T. Blood, 1822.
Albert Outler, a Wesleyan scholar from the 20th century, wrote in the introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley that Wesley developed his theology using a method that Outler called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” In this method, Wesley believed that the Bible was the living center of Christianity and the only source for developing theology. Wesley thought the Bible was so important that he called himself “a man of one book,” even though he knew a lot of books for his time. But he thought that doctrine had to be in line with the orthodox Christian practice. So, tradition was seen as the second part of the Quadrilateral. Wesley argued that experiential faith would be a part of the theological process. In other words, if something were true, Christians would feel it in their own lives (as a whole, not just individually). And every theory must be able to be defended logically. He didn’t separate reason and faith. Wesley, on the other hand, said that tradition, experience, and reason were always subject to Scripture because only there is the Word of God revealed “so far as it is necessary for our salvation.”
In London, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, there is a bronze figure of Wesley. The one in Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall is made of marble.
Wesley emphasized four doctrines in his sermons and writings: prevenient grace, present personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and entire sanctification. Prevenient grace was the theological basis for his belief that everyone could be saved by faith in Christ. Wesley, unlike the Calvinists of his time, did not believe in determinism, the idea that God chose some people to be saved and others to be lost. He knew that orthodox Christianity said that redemption was only possible through God’s free grace. He said that he thought God’s relationship with people was one of complete dependence on God’s kindness. God was at work to make sure that everyone could come to faith. He did this by giving people the freedom to respond to him in any way they wanted.
Wesley said that the witness of the Spirit is “an inward impression on the soul of believers, by which the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God.” He based this doctrine on Romans 8:15–16 as an example. This doctrine was closely related to his belief that salvation had to be “personal.” He thought that a person had to believe the Good News for himself or herself; no one else could do it for them.
In 1790, he said that “entire sanctification” was the “great deposit that God has given to the people called “Methodists.” He taught that it was possible to get entire holiness after justification by faith and before death.
“That habitual state of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is called holiness, and which directly means being cleansed from sin, “from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” and, as a result, being given the virtues that were in Christ Jesus; being so “remade in the image of our mind” as to be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.”
Wesley didn’t use the phrase “sinless perfection” because it wasn’t clear what it meant. Instead, he said that a Christian could be made “perfect in love.” Wesley studied Eastern Orthodoxy and especially liked the idea of theosis. This love would mean, first of all, that a believer’s actions would be driven by a deep desire to please God instead of by self-centeredness. People would be able to avoid what Wesley called “sin rightly so-called.” By this, he meant breaking God’s will or rules on purpose.
Second, for Wesley, to be made perfect in love meant that a Christian could live with a main concern for the well-being of others. He said this because Christ said the second great commandment is “to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Wesley thought that if a person had this mindset, he or she would not do any number of bad things to their neighbor. This love, along with the love for God that could be the center of a person’s faith, would be what Wesley called “a fulfilment of the law of Christ.” He said that the testimony of the Spirit could give people assurance of perfection, which was like a second conversion or an instantaneous sanctifying experience. Wesley gathered these stories and put them in books.
People are aware of what John Wesley said about the Islamic faith. Wesley thought that Christianity was better than Islam because he believed the Bible was “the book of God”. He didn’t think that other Abrahamic and Eastern faiths were as important as Christianity from a theological point of view. He often saw the way Muslims lived as a “ox goad” to poke the Christian conscience as a whole.
Support for the Arminianism
Wesley as drawn by William Hamilton in 1788. On show right now in London at John Wesley’s House on City Road.
Wesley got into arguments when he tried to change how the church did things. The one about Calvinism was the most famous fight he got into. His father was a member of the church’s Arminian school. While he was in college, Wesley came to his own conclusions and spoke out strongly against the Calvinist beliefs of election and reprobation. Wesley and another preacher, John William Fletcher, laid the groundwork for what became known as Wesleyan Arminianism.  Even though Wesley didn’t know much about Jacob Arminius’s beliefs and came to his own religious views on his own, he acknowledged at the end of his life, when The Arminian Magazine came out in 1778, that he and Arminius agreed on most things. W. Stephen Gunther, a professor of theology, says that Wesley was “a faithful representative” of Arminius’s ideas. Wesley was likely the most vocal English supporter of Arminianism.
Whitefield, on the other hand, was more likely to be a Calvinist. During his first trip to America, he agreed with the ideas of the New England School of Calvinism. Whitefield disagreed with Wesley’s support of Arminianism, even though the two of them were still friends. In 1739, Wesley gave a sermon called “Freedom of Grace.” In it, he said that the Calvinist view of predestination was blasphemous because it made God look “worse than the devil.” Whitefield asked him not to give the sermon again or print it because he didn’t want a fight. Wesley still put out his talk. Whitefield was just one of the people who answered. In 1741, the two lawyers went their different ways. Wesley wrote that people who believed in “unlimited atonement” didn’t want to be split up, but “those who believed in “particular salvation” would not hear of any compromise.”
George Whitefield by Joseph Badger, ca. 1745 (from the Harvard University Portrait Collection)
Calvinistic Methodism was started by Whitefield, Howell Harris (who led the Welsh Methodist movement), John Cennick, and others. But Whitefield and Wesley were soon friends again, and their friendship didn’t end even though they went in different directions. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he’d see Wesley in heaven, he said, “I don’t worry about it. He’ll be so close to the eternal throne, and we’ll be so far away, we won’t even be able to see him.”
In 1770, the fight started up again, this time with violence and anger, because people’s ideas about God were linked to their ideas about men and what they could do. Augustus Toplady, Daniel Rowland, Sir Richard Hill, and others were fighting on one side, while Wesley and Fletcher stood on the other. Toplady was the editor of The Gospel Magazine, and there were stories about the conflict in the magazine.
Wesley started publishing The Arminian Magazine in 1778. He said he did this not to change the minds of Calvinists, but to keep Methodists from leaving. He wanted to spread the truth that “God wants all people to be saved.” There was no other way to get “lasting peace.”
Some people think that, later in life, Wesley may have agreed with the idea that everyone can be saved, but this is contested. The claim is backed up by a letter Wesley wrote in 1787, in which he called a book by Charles Bonnet “one of the most sensible tracts I have ever read” and said, “Therefore, there will be a perpetual advance of all the individuals of humanity towards greater perfection or greater happiness.”
Support for abolitionism
Later in his career, Wesley became a strong opponent of the slave trade. He spoke out against it and wrote about it. Wesley called slavery “the sum of all villainies” and explained how it hurt people. In 1774, he wrote a polemical tract called “Thoughts Upon Slavery” about the slave trade. In it, he said, “Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right which he derives from the law of nature.” This sparked the transatlantic debate on slavery
Wesley’s message against slavery led a young African-American man named Richard Allen to become a Christian in 1777. He went on to start the Methodist-style African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1816.
Support For Women Preachers
Wesley’s Methodism gave women a lot of power and urged them to lead classes. Informally, he gave Sarah Crosby, one of his converts and a class leader, permission to preach in 1761. On a day when more than 200 people came to a class she was supposed to teach, Crosby felt she couldn’t do her job as a class leader and decided to preach instead. She wrote to Wesley to ask for his advice and forgiveness, and he let her keep preaching as long as she didn’t do as many of the things he did. For example, in 1769, Wesley let Crosby give sermons.
In the summer of 1771, Mary Bosanquet wrote to John Wesley to defend her and Sarah Crosby’s work preaching and leading classes at her orphanage, Cross Hall. Bosanquet’s letter is considered to be the first full and true defense of women’s preaching in Methodism. Her argument was that women should be able to preach when they felt a “extraordinary call” or when God gave them permission. Wesley agreed with Bosanquet’s
Personality and Activities
Wesley traveled a lot, usually on horseback, and preached two or three times a day in many different places. Stephen Tomkins writes, “[Wesley] rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds,… and preached more than 40,000 sermons…” He started groups, opened chapels, tested and commissioned preachers, ran charities to help the poor, prescribed medicine for the sick, and was one of the first people to use electric shocks to treat illness. He also oversaw orphanages and schools, including Kingswood School.
Wesley was a vegetarian and later gave up wine for health reasons. He wrote, “Thanks be to God, since the time I gave up flesh meals and wine I have been delivered from all physical ills.” Wesley warned against the dangers of alcohol abuse in his famous sermon, “The Use of Money,” and in a letter to an alcoholic.
He went to concerts and liked Charles Avison in particular. In 1758, he wrote in his journal, “I went to the cathedral to hear Mr. Handel’s Messiah. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many places, especially some of the choruses, it exceeded my expectations.”
He is said to be “rather under the medium height, well proportioned, strong, with a bright eye, a clear complexion, and a saintly, intellectual face.” Wesley preferred celibacy to marriage, but he did marry in 1751, at the age of 48, to a widow named Mary Vazeille, who was “a well-off widow and mother of four children.” The couple did not have any children. John Singleton says, “By 1758, she had left him, unable, it is said, to compete with the growing Methodist movement for his time and devotion. Molly, as she was known, would return and leave him several times before they broke up for good.” Wesley wrote in his journal, “I did not leave her, I did not fire her, and I will not call her back.”
Wesley wrote a memorial sermon for George Whitefield after he died in 1770. In it, he praised Whitefield’s good qualities and said that the two men had different beliefs. He said, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature… In these we may think and let think; we may “agree to disagree.” But, in the meantime, let us hold fast the essentials.” Wesley may have been the first person to use “agree to disagree” in print, though he
Wesley was very sick when he went to Ireland in June 1775 to visit Lisburn. People thought he would die at the home of a prominent Methodist, Henrietta Gayer. People prayed “for another fifteen years” for him, and he got better.
On his deathbed, Wesley said, “The best thing is that God is with us.” The print was made by John Sartain.
Near the end of his life, Wesley’s health got much worse, and he stopped speaking. Less than a year before he died, on June 28, 1790, he wrote:
Today is the first day of my 88th year. For more than eighty-six years, I didn’t have any of the problems that come with getting older. My eyes didn’t get worse, and neither did my health. But last August, I almost felt like things changed quickly. My eyesight was so bad that glasses wouldn’t help. My strength has also left me for good, and it probably won’t come back in this world.
The Museum of Methodism in London shows Wesley’s death mask.
During his last months, Wesley was taken care of by Elizabeth Ritchie and his doctor, John Whitehead. He died on March 2, 1791, at the age of 87. As he lay dying, his friends gathered around him, and Wesley held their hands and said, “Farewell, farewell.” At the end, he said, “The best of all is, God is with us,” lifted his arms, and raised his feeble voice again, saying, “The best of all is, God is with us.” He was buried at his chapel on City Road in London.
He died poor because of how kind he was, but he left behind 135,000 followers and 541 traveling preachers who called themselves “Methodists.” People have said that when John Wesley died, he left behind a good library of books, a worn-out clergyman’s robe, and the Methodist Church.
Wesley wrote, edited, or shortened more than 400 books and other works. Wesley wrote about music, marriage, health, abolition, and politics, as well as theology. He was a logical thinker who wrote in a clear, concise, and powerful way. Between 1746 and 1760, Wesley wrote several volumes of sermons and published them as Sermons on Several Occasions. The first four volumes contain forty-four sermons that are doctrinal in nature. His Forty-Four Sermons and the Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1755) are Methodist doctrinal standards.
In his Christian Library (1750), he talks about mystics like Macarius of Egypt, Ephrem the Syrian, Madame Guyon, Francois Fénelon, Ignatius of Loyola, John of vila, Francis de Sales, Blaise Pascal, and Antoinette Bourignon. The work shows how Christian magic affected Wesley’s ministry from the start to the end, even though he turned away from it after the Georgia mission failed.
Wesley himself put together the first version of Works, which has 32 volumes and was published in Bristol between 1771 and 1774. The number of volumes in later editions has changed a lot. The Methodist Book Concern in New York has published his most important written works in seven octavo volumes. The Collected Poetical Works of John and Charles, ed. G. Osborn, came out in 13 volumes in London from 1868 to 1872.
His Journals (originally published in 20 parts, London, 1740–89; new edition by N. Curnock with notes from unpublished diaries, 6 vols., vols. i–ii, London and New York, 1909–11); The Doctrine of Original Sin (Bristol, 1757; in response to John Taylor of Norwich); An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (originally published in three parts; 2nd ed., Bristol, 1743), a
Wesley’s Sunday Service was an American Methodist version of the Book of Common Prayer. In his Watchnight service, he used a pietist prayer that is now known as the Wesley Covenant Prayer. This may be his most well-known contribution to Christian worship. He was also a well-known hymn writer, translator, and compiler of a hymnal.
Wesley also wrote about physics and medicine, such as in The Desideratum, which has the heading Electricity made Plain and Useful by a Lover of Mankind and of Common Sense (1759) and Primitive Physic, Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases (1759).
Even though Wesley wrote a lot, he was accused of plagiarism because he took a lot of ideas from an article by Samuel Johnson that came out in March 1775. Wesley denied the charge at first, but he later apologized in a formal way.
Remembering and leaving a mark
Wesley is still the most important theological influence on Methodists and Methodist-heritage groups all over the world. There are 75 million Methodists in more than 130 countries, and the Methodist movement is based on Wesleyan teachings. Wesleyan teachings are also the basis for the Holiness movement, which includes the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, and several smaller groups.
He and his brother Charles are both remembered in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on March 2. The Wesley brothers are remembered on March 3 with a Lesser Feast in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church and on May 24 with a Lesser Festival on Aldersgate Day in the Calendar of the Church of England.
Wesley was voted by the British people to be number 50 on the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons in 2002.
Wesley built his house and church on City Road in London in 1778. They are still there today, and the chapel has a large congregation and holds regular services. In the crypt, there is also the Museum of Methodism.
Many schools, colleges, hospitals, and other places are named after John Wesley, and many are also named after the religion of Methodism. Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, was the first college or university in the US to be named after Wesley. It opened in 1831. When it was first started, the school was a Methodist college for men only.
In the 1990s, at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, a copy of the house where Wesley lived as a boy was built. This was an addition to a group of buildings built for the World Methodist Council starting in the 1950s. These buildings included a museum with letters written by Wesley and a pulpit he used. The museum was already having trouble staying open, and the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to close it. Its items went to the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.