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Born in Lincolnshire and the children of a Nonconformist minister, John Wesley lived from 1703 to 1791 and his younger brother, Charles, from 1707 to1788. John became an Anglican clergyman, an evangelist, and the co-founder of Methodism. He graduated from Oxford University, became a priest in the Church of England in 1728 and participated in a religious study group in Oxford organised by Charles, its members being named Methodists for their emphasis on methodical study and devotion. Its numbers grew, and it began to undertake social and charitable activities.
Buoyed by his years at Oxford and keen to put the principles of the Holy Club to work elsewhere, John Wesley, in 1735, accepted an invitation to become a minister in the recently founded colony of Georgia. With Charles, John Wesley spent two disappointing years in the New World. Despite his zeal to bring them the Gospel, he was rebuffed by the colonists and received unenthusiastically by the Indians. Moreover, he became involved in an unsuccessful love affair, the aftermath of which brought him the unwanted publicity of a court case. In 1737 the Wesleys returned to London, where they were further influenced by the Moravian Church, whose missionaries they had been introduced to in Georgia.
A Protestant denomination founded in Saxony in the 18th century, they impressed John with their practical piety and spiritual confidence. In 1738, inspired by a preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, written by Martin Luther, both men had a religious experience of conversion that convinced them that salvation was possible through faith alone. Zealous evangelists, they had great success in preaching to the masses in the succeeding decades.
John Wesley averaged 15 sermons a week, and, as his Journal indicates, he preached more than 40, 000 sermons in his career, travelling the length and breadth of England and more than 250, 000 miles, during an age when roads were often only muddy ruts. Crowds were often hostile, and Wesley quickly learned the art of speaking. Despite opposition, his sermons were inspirational and many were converted immediately, frequently exhibiting physical signs, such as fits or trances.
From the beginning Wesley viewed his movement as one within the Church of England and not in opposition to it. As he gained converts, however, they grouped themselves together in societies that Wesley envisioned playing the same role in Anglicanism as the monastic orders do in the Roman Catholic Church. He took a continual and rather authoritarian part in the life of these societies, visiting them periodically, settling disputes, and expelling the recalcitrant. Yearly conferences of the whole movement presented him with the opportunity to establish policy. Under his leadership each society was broken down into a Class which dealt with matters of finance, and a Band which set standards of personal morality. In addition, Wesley wrote numerous theological works and edited 35 volumes of Christian literature. A tireless organiser, he kept his movement prospering despite a variety of defections.
John Wesley, preaching on his father's grave
Yet the continual opposition of the Anglican bishops, coupled with their refusal to ordain Methodist clergy, forced Wesley to move closer to actual separation toward the end of his life. In 1784 he took out a deed of declaration, which secured the legal standing of the Methodist Society after his death. In the same year he reluctantly ordained two men to serve as "superintendents" for Methodists in North America. He continued the practice to provide clergymen for England but very sparingly and with great hesitation. Wesley always maintained that he personally adhered to the Church of England.
John and Charles Wesley
Methodism had a significant impact on English society. It brought religion to masses of people who, through the shifts of population brought about by the industrial revolution, had become difficult to reach. By emphasising morality, self-discipline, and thrift to the deprived classes, Wesley has been credited by some historians as being a major force in keeping England free of revolution and widespread social unrest during his day. He himself was politically conservative, a critic of democracy, and a foe of both the American and French revolutions.
Throughout his life Wesley's closest confidant was his brother and co-worker Charles, the composer of a number of well-known hymns. Wesley, always extraordinarily healthy, remained active to the end, preaching his final sermon at an open-air meeting just 4 months before his death on March 2, 1791, in London.
John and Charles Wesley wrote thousands of hymns including “Hark the herald Angels Sing” and Jesus Christ is Risen Today”
Their feast day is March 3rd
Read about the hymn: Lo he comes with clouds descending
Lord God, you inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song; Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervour, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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