John Wesley (June 17, 1703 - March 2, 1791) was an 18th-century Anglican minister and powerful field-evangelist who was an early leader in the Methodist movement. While never formally separating from the Anglican Church, John Wesley acted on his own even so far as to ordain ministers by the laying on of hands, which he had found to be a Biblical example. The Protestants in Georgia said the following about John Wesley:
John Wesley taught what he believed and not what someone else told him to preach. He was a firm believer that salvation is by God's grace alone, and that the love of God can and should reign in a believer's heart. Healings and other supernatural occurences also followed his ministry, along with persecution from the established churches.
John Wesley was born in Epworth, 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Lincoln, England, the son of Samuel Wesley, a poet and graduate of the University of Oxford, and a minister of the Church of England. In 1689 Samuel married Susanna Annesley, twenty-fifth child of Dr. Samuel Annesley. Both Samuel and Susanna had been raised in Dissenting homes before becoming members of the Established Church early in adulthood. Susanna herself became a mother of nineteen children. In 1696 Samuel Wesley was appointed rector of Epworth, where John, the fifteenth child, was born.
At the age of six, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind; and he spoke of himself as a "brand plucked from the burning," and as a child of Providence.
The Wesley children's early education was given by their parents in the Epworth rectory. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read, beginning at the age of five. In 1713 John was admitted to the Charterhouse School, London, where he lived the studious, methodical, and (for a while) religious life in which he had been trained at home. One biographer, Tyerman, says that he went to Charterhouse a saint; but he became negligent of his religious duties, and left a sinner.
In 1720, John Wesley entered Christ Church College, Oxford. In 1725 he began to seek after holiness of heart and life through a rigidly methodical and abstemious life, study of the Scriptures, and the giving of alms. He was ordained deacon that year, and elected fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1726. John Wesley received his Master's degree from Christ Church College in 1727, and became his father's curate for two years, returning to Oxford to fulfil his functions as fellow in 1929.
On his return to Oxford, John Wesley, together with his younger brother Charles and some other students, formed a "holy club" whose members were derisively called "Methodists" because of their methodical habits.
In 1735, Governor James Oglethorpe issued a request for a clergyman to go to the English colony of Georgia (now part of the United States). Wesley responded, accompanied by his brother Charles, and remained in the colony for two years, first landing at Peeper (now Cockspur Island on February 6th, 1736. On the Journey to New England were several German Moravians who, when a storm was beating the boat, calmly sang their Christian hymns. One of them asked John Wesley if he was saved, to which John Wesley unnervingly replied "I hope [Jesus] has died to save me."
While John Wesley's efforts in Georgia were well-purposed, his methods were hard (even refusing to bury those who had not had Anglican baptism). The result of this messionary experiment was that many hymns were added to the Church, and John Wesley improved in character. John Wesley later said of these days: ""I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son," and "Can anyone carry High Church zeal higher than this ? And how well have I been since beaten with mine own staff!" His nicknames of “a Jesuit”, “a Jacobite”, and a “Presbyterian papist” indicate those of his day simply had no “box” to put Wesley in. They only knew he did not fit into what they expected or wanted. He returned depressed and beaten to England in 1738.
Back in England, John Wesley met the Moravian Peter Bohler, who shocked him with his faith and assurance in God. Convinced by the Moravians, John Wesley was convinced their faith was real, and resolved to seek that assuarnce by:
A few weeks later, on May 24, 1738 in Aldersgate Street, London, while listening to a reading of Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley felt his "heart strangely warmed". In his own words, here is what happened:
On June 11, 1938, a few weeks after his conversion, Johh Wesley preached the sermon entitled "By grace are ye saved through faith", establishing a theme that continued throughout his ministry. At 3:00 am on New Year's Eve of 1938/9 while in prayer with a group of Christians in Fetter Lane, the power of God swept through the room, with many falling to the ground, others crying for joy, and all lifting praise to God.
On the invitation of George Whitfield, a friend of John Wesley's from Oxford, he preached his open air sermon Bristol in April of 1739. These open-air services were very successful; and he never again hesitated to preach in any place where an assembly could be got together, more than once using his father's tombstone at Epworth as a pulpit. He continued for fifty years; entering churches when he was invited, and taking his stand in the fields, in halls, cottages, and chapels, when the churches would not receive him.
From 1739 onward, the following accompanied John Wesley's sermons:
The Methodists were often attacked verbally in sermons and print, and also physically by mobs. They were denounced as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances, as blind fanatics leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, and attempting to reestablish Catholicism.
Meanwhile, the John Wesley continued to preach, and his followers continued to work among the neglected and needy.
John Wesley had allied himself with the Moravian society in Fetter Lane in 1738, and even went to Herrnhut, the Moravian headquarters in Germany. He met frequently with this and other religious societies in London, but did not preach often in 1738, because most of the parish churches were now closed to him. Late in 1739 Wesley broke with the Moravians in London. Finding, as he said, that they had fallen into heresies, especially quietism, he decided to form his own followers into a separate society. "Thus," he wrote, "without any previous plan, began the Methodist Society in England."
Similar societies were soon formed in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his friends made converts. Wesley also became the sole trustee of all of the chapel's of the Methodist societies, until a "deed of declaration" transferred all of his interests to a body of preachers called the "Legal Hundred."
In order to keep the disorderly out of the societies, Wesley established a probationary system, and undertook to visit each society regularly. As the societies increased, he could not keep up contact effectively; so he drew up in 1743 a set of "General Rules" for the "United Societies," which were the nucleus of the Methodist Discipline and still exist. These general rules are as follows:
As his societies multiplied, the breach between Wesley and the Church of England widened. The question of separation from that church as a contentious issue. In 1745 Wesley wrote that he would make any concession which his conscience permitted, in order to live in harmony with the clergy, but could not give up the doctrine of an inward and present salvation by faith alone. He would not stop preaching or dissolve the societies or end lay preaching. "We dare not," he said, "administer baptism or the Lord's Supper without a commission from a bishop in the apostolic succession."
But the next year he read Lord King on the Primitive Church, and Wesley was convinced by it that apostolic succession was a fiction, and that he was "a scriptural episcopos as much as any man in England." Some years later Edward Stillingfleet's Irenicon led him to renounce the opinion that Christ or his apostles prescribed any form of church government, and to declare ordination valid when performed by a presbyter. It was not until about forty years later that he ordained by the laying on of hands, and even then only for those who would serve outside of England. Although he rejoiced that the Methodists in America were free, he advised his English followers to remain in the established church; and he himself died within it.
The doctrines which Wesley emphasized in his sermons and writings are grace, present personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and sanctification. He defined the witness of the Spirit as: "an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God."
Sanctification he spoke of (1790) as the "grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called `Methodists'." Wesley taught that sanctification was obtainable instantaneously by faith, between justification and death. It was not "sinless perfection" that he contended for; but he believed that those who are "perfect in love" feel no sin. He was anxious that this doctrine should be constantly preached.
John Wesley's constant preaching left little time for any other activities. He travelled constantly, generally on horseback, preaching twice or thrice a day. He formed societies, opened chapels, examined and commissioned preachers, administered charities, prayed for the sick, and superintended schools and orphanages. He rose at four in the morning, lived simply and methodically, and was never idle if he could help it. His charities were limited only by his means.
John Wesley is described as below medium height, well proportioned, strong, with a bright eye, a clear complexion, and a saintly, intellectual face. He married very unhappily, at the age of forty-eight, to a widow, Mary Vazeille, and had no children; she left him fifteen years later. He died peacefully, after a short illness, leaving as the result of his life-work 135,000 members, and 541 itinerant preachers under the name "Methodist."
Supernatural Occurrences of John Wesley
The Supernatural Occurrences of John Wesley is a non-fiction book relying heavily upon actual quotations from the writings of John Wesley. The author presents various types of supernatural phenomena as they were recorded by Wesley. These phenomena include visions, dreams, miraculous healings, instances of persons passing out during Wesley’s sermons, supernatural answers to prayer, the unusual fates of some of Wesley’s critics, and cases of demon possession.