The Life of John Wesley is extremely important in English history; the man was at the heart of the Methodist movement. He was born on 17 June 1703, so as I am writing this he was born 311 years ago! He is one of three famous leaders of the movement, along with his brother Charles, and George Whitefield (whose importance has been recently noted and has been credited much more than before). John Wesley however, has been argued as the key player, with a strict and tough attitude, he ensured that things were done correctly and smoothly.
His father and mother were also deeply religious, and their strict parenthood stayed with Wesley his entire life. His Father was a rector for the Church of England. Mrs. Wesley’s first care was to teach her children obedience. Allowing her to rule her very large household but also in her mind to secure the happiness of her children. It allowed her to treat her children with illnesses easier, as they would take any medicine. Whilst as a young child, he managed to survive two fires that happened in his family house. His father cared little for the house but more for the lives of his children. John never complained about his upbringing in his journals.
Although brought up in a religious family, Wesley was not converted until 1738. He went to Georgia to mission to the Native Americans; however he came away from the experience, down hearted and doubted his belief. It was not until he unwilling went to a meeting and heard Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley came out a changed man and a few weeks later, began to preach on doctrine of personal salvation by faith, followed by one, on God’s grace which was labelled “free in all, and free for all.
The Wesley that is most known to us, is Wesley the Methodist leader. It must be noted that he was never ever against the Church of England. The Methodists were not vastly different from them, they were just more aware of the problem that the Church of England was facing and showed ‘enthusiasm’ which was not appreciated in the CoE. His Brother Charles Wesley even stated that he believed that he had a ‘role as the champion of the Church of England’. Methodism did not split from the CoE until after both John and Charles death, when the problems of the French revolution and individuals rose up, causing the big split.
Wesley did not have a simple or relaxing life; in fact it was a hard one, mostly filled with travelling and mobs who threatened his life. John Wesley usually travelled on horseback, in sun or in storms, preaching at least two or three times each day. It is claimed that he rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds, … and preached more than 40,000 sermons. Wesley’s charity was only limited by his income. At Oxford he lived on twenty-eight pounds, and gave away the rest to the poor and the society. As his income increased, his charities extended. His care for the poor and the weak are advent in his sermons, in which in constructed specifically for them, ensuring it was used in language they could understand. The mobs were usually stirred up by bishops, particularly in the south of England, where the CoE had the most security. They were jealous of Charles and Johns popularity and were often attacked, either beaten up or the mob trying to stone them.
However he was not the only Methodist preacher around, he was ordained by the Church of England, like his brother, but John knew that more preachers were needed for the work, this resulted in the creation of lay-preachers, and these were not ordained, but men from all backgrounds whom were believed to have the skills required to preach. They were often living in poverty and in hardship, however eventually in 1752 it was arranged that the preachers should receive an income of twelve pounds a year, in order to provide themselves with clothes, and lodging was found by the Societies. John Wesley had founded an organization that could look after itself and for each other.
Wesley has often been called loveless, this is entirely untrue, in fact he had loved many times. There are many times where Wesley was in love, however, his constant travelling and unfortunate mishaps, ensured he would not marry until he met Grace Murray, who was widowed when her husband had drowned at sea. John told Charles that he wished to marry her, not for her birth, but for her own character and worth. Her neatness, her carefulness, her strong sense, and her sterling piety had won his highest esteem. Sadly it did not happen, as Charles convinced grace to marry Bennet. He did not approve of the marriage. John’s life was not easy or simple, his marriage to Mrs. Vazeille in 1751 was not an easy one, it was quite an unhappy marriage.
Wesley’s “Sermons” had an enormous circulation. They were prepared for the press rather than for the pulpit. The first series, consisting of fifty-three sermons, was published in four small volumes between 1746 and 1760. These four volumes, with Wesley’s ‘Notes on the New Testament’, form the doctrinal standard of Methodism. His preaching was also something to behold, and was unique, he held the crowd’s attention who waited on every word spoken.
Wesley’s last words were, “Farewell, farewell.”, he cried out, “The best of all is, God is with us,” lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” A deeply religious man, Wesley remained until his death, and his influence has remained within nonconformist circles, with him being noted for his faith and work he did in the 18th century. His skills as a speaker, as a carer for the poor, as a man who did his up most to help those in need; certainly make him stand out as a figure in history. The Methodist movement was extremely important in 18th century history and this was mainly due to John Wesley.
Telford., John http://wesley.nnu.edu/ ‘The Life of John Wesley’
Tomkins, Stephen,. John Wesley: a biography. (Oxford: Lion Books : 2003)