John Wesley and the Methodist Revival
[Excerpts taken from "John Wesley" , by Basil Miller, BETHANY
HOUSE PUBLISHERS, available online at: http://www.amazon.com . In the search section,
type in "John Wesley, by Basil Miller." For a complete description of
this amazing revival of the 18th century Christian Church
be sure to order the book. The book starts out slow but turns into a
"Samuel, a wandering cleric, was often in London and left the management
of his parish to Susannah with the assistance of a curate. Doubtless
Susannah and the growing John looked upon the jaunts as a waste of the
minister's time. There was one trip, however, he made which was not all
lost. And that was the London safari during which he obtained
the scholarship for John. Concerning this he writes:
"I've a younger son at home whom the Duke of Buckingham has this week
written down for his going into the Charterhouse as soon as he's of age:
so that my time has not been all lost in London."
That younger son was John. Though the letter was written when John was
eight, still he was assured of an open road toward a qualifying education
for whatever task he should undertake in his mature years.
When Methodism's future sire entered Charterhouse he was in no wise handicapped
by a lack of routine or formal training. For the private education he
had received from Mother Susannah not only taught him learning from books
but drilled into his system, both mental and spiritual, the principles
of plain living and high thinking. At this time he was "a diligent and
successful scholar and a patient and forgiving boy, who had at home been
inured not indeed to oppression but to the hard living and scanty fare."
John was admitted as a charity scholar on the Sutton Foundation, along
with forty-three other boys who were unable to pay their way. He received
his meals in the dining hall and being small for his age, the older boys
robbed his platter of the tastier morsels.
"From ten to fourteen," John later writes, "I had little but bread to
eat and not great plenty of that. I believe this was so far from hurting
me that it laid the foundation of lasting health."...While the youthful
Wesley was busy polishing his mind he became lax in keeping his religious
diligence up to par. Rather than abetting his religious growth his stay
at Charterhouse had the reverse effect.
This caused him to say, "Outward restraints being removed, I was much
more negligent than before, even of outward duties, and almost continually
guilty of outward sins, which I knew to be such, though they were not
scandalous in the eye of the world. However, I still read the Scriptures,
and said my prayers morning and evening. And what I now hoped to be saved
by was--(1) not being so bad as other people; (2) having still a kindness
for religion; and (3) reading the Bible, going to church and saying my
Tyerman in commenting on John's stay at Charterhouse doubtless overdraws
the picture of Wesley's character derelictions when he says, "Terrible
is the danger when a child leaves a pious home for a public school. John
Wesley entered the Charterhouse a saint, and left it a sinner."...
John was a diligent student at this time, for Samuel Jr., writes to his
father saying, "Jack is a brave boy, learning Hebrew as fast as he can." Charterhouse,
however, was but the springboard into the broader world of education
and training for John. Finishing his course there in 1719 he was soon
on his way to Oxford, where his life was to be chiseled by the hammer
of divine providence.
THE OXFORD DON
Wesley entered Christ Church, Oxford, on June 24, 1720, receiving
a scholarship of approximately $200 a year, or L40. It was this along
with a few scant gifts from the Epworth homefolk that made his university
days possible. Oxford did little to improve John's spiritual life.
In reality the university had struck one of the low levels of its scholastic
and religious history, and had little to offer the student save a boarding
place, a room in which to study and lectures to attend. Degrees were
given for residence on the basis that the university was inhabited by
students in residence implied the habit of study.
Gibbon entering Oxford forty years later said of his stay, "They proved
the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life...The
fellows...from the toil of reading, or thinking, or writing, they had
absolved their conscience..."
Little is known of John's undergraduate life, save that due to his lack
of money he lived almost as a recluse. A contemporary describes him as "a
very sensible, active collegian, baffling every man by the subtleties
of his logic, and laughing at them for being so easily routed; a young
fellow of the finest classical tastes, of the most liberal and many sentiments,
gay and sprightly with a turn for wit and humor."
Here he was to remain until after his ordination as deacon in 1725. Wesley
makes little reference to his studies, but gives us to understand that
his religious life was little better than during his Charterhouse days.
"I still said my prayers," he remarks, "both in public and private; and
read, with the Scriptures, several other books of religion, especially
comments on the New Testament. Yet I had not all this while so much as
a notion of inward holiness; nay, went on habitually and for the most
part very contentedly in some or other known sin; though with some intermission
and short struggles, especially before and after Holy Communion which
I was obligated to receive twice a year."...
When John was twenty-two, the year after taking his degree, he came to
a turning point in his career. Living under Susannah's constant oversight
and training until he was ten, he found implanted in his heart a bearing
toward the ministry. Nor could it be thought singular that such was the
case, since his heritage had brought down to him stories of those time-defying
curates who had marked his ancestry. He could not have been Samuel's
son and not inclined toward the pulpit, much less Susannah's pupil.
This bent toward the ministry as a life occupation came to the fore in
1725. Though he was outwardly a churchman still the flame of divine fire
flickered low in his life during his educational career. For more than
twelve years he had been away from home, living in an atmosphere of culture
and training. This had dulled the keen edge of his religious sentiments.
He had become a gay collegian, a favorite in any society, a wit, whose
repute for scholarship was high, but whose religious life was indifferent.
Late one evening he met the college porter, a deeply pious man, with
whom the don began to speak. The poorly clad porter was urged to go home
for a coat, the evening being cold. In return the porter thanked God
for the one coat he had on, as well as for water--his only drink during
the day. When John asked him what else there was to be thankful for,
said the porter, "I will thank Him I have the dry stones to lie upon."
Being urged by John to continue, the servant said,
"I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love
Him, and a desire to serve Him."
Returning to his room that evening John began to feel there were emotional
depths to salvation he had not plumbed. He was a stranger to such sentiments.
He wrote to his parents about this urge to enter the life of a cleric.
His father replied that he should not enter the priestly office "just
to have a piece of bread."...
There were deep springs of spiritual overflowing down in Susannah's heart
which kept bubbling to the surface in the form of advice to her son.
She had taught him aright while directing his early education, and
now beyond the pale of her immediate influence, she wanted young John
to be certain of his relationship to Christ. In reality it was her own
experience of redemption through Christ that mothered the Methodist revival...
John's heart was warmed toward such sentiments, for recently he had been
reading Thomas Kempis' Imitation of Christ, and Taylor's Holy
Living and Dying, as he was later to read Law's Christian Perfection. These
books awakened his conscience, and began to toll a bell in his mind,
the burst of whose melody had but faintly sounded since leaving home.
"The providence of God," writes Wesley,
"directing me to Kempis' Christian Pattern, I began to see that
true religion was seated in the heart, and that God's law extended to
all our thoughts as well as words and actions...I set apart two hours
a day for religious retirement. I communicated every week. I watched
against all sin, whether in word or deed. I began to aim at and pray
for inward holiness..."
THE HOLY CLUB
While John was serving as his father's curate at Wroote, great
things were happening at Oxford, which as a strange providence were to
give birth to Methodism. Wesley's soul was longing for the highway that
led to religious freedom. He was striving outwardly to conform his life
to spiritual standards, while the inner glow making this possible failed
to spark to flame...
He began to attend the Sacraments weekly and to induce others to join
him in this search for righteousness. He and his companions adopted rules
for the governing of their lives, directing their religious activities,
allotting their time carefully for study and churchly duties. In this
time-charting they gave little attention or space allocation to sleep
or food, and as much as possible to religion.
It was a small group that circled around Charles [John's brother] but
their weekly trip to Oxford cathedral caught the attention of an undergraduate
who said, "Here is a new set of Methodists sprung up."
Charles says the word Methodist "was bestowed upon himself and
his friends because of their strict conformity to the method of study
prescribed by the university." However the name was first used as, and
in its connotation it came to bear, an approbrious designation, and later
when John referred to it, he did so with a consciousness that it was
used in a derogatory manner.
In an early sermon John speaks of his associates as "the people in derision
called Methodists." In his English Dictionary he defines a Methodist
as "one that lives according to the method laid down in the Bible."
On October 21, 1729, Dr. Morley, the Rector of Lincoln, informed Wesley
that as a junior fellow he must attend his duties in person, and sent
him an invitation to return to Oxford. On returning to the university
John found the little group of Methodists in action, and at once became
His age as well as his scholarship made it inevitable that he should
assume this position. Various names were applied to these methodical
religionists as fellow students viewed them. Some spoke of them as Sacramentarians,
Bible Moths, Bible Bigots; two names, however rapidly gained the ascendancy--Methodists
and the Holy Club.
John was nicknamed
"curator of the Holy Club," or sometimes "the father of the Holy Club."...
The first work of the Holy Club was Bible study. While other items were
on the agenda, the searching of the Scripture was the paramount one.
[putting on the Armour of God.]
"From the very beginning," said Wesley,
"from the time that four young men united together, each of them was homo
unius libri, a man of one book...They had one and only one rule of
judgment...They were continually reproached for this very thing, some
terming them in derision Bible Bigots, others, Bible Moths, feeding,
they said, upon the Bible as moths do on cloth...And indeed...it is their
constant endeavor to think and speak as the oracles of God."
This was to be the fundamental issue in the growth of Methodism, and
wherever you find John during the long decades of his career, he was
still a Bible Moth.
So great was this love of the Bible that in his later life he wrote his Notes
on the New Testament, which in its day was a classic and created
a favorable impression outside Methodist ranks.
The members of the club at first met Sunday evenings, and this in time
became a twice-weekly session when they gathered for Bible study and
discussion. At length these meetings became nightly, from six to nine
o'clock. Those famous sessions were begun by beseeching God's benedictions
upon their lives. After this prayer season they opened their Greek Testament
for a period of searching the Scripture in the original language. This
was followed by a brief study of the classics. The evening was climaxed
by a detailed review of the day, an outlining of tomorrow's tasks and,
finally, a frugal supper.
Along with the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper, they also set
aside two days each week for fasting and prayer, and laid out a set of
rules by which each member was to try himself before the bar of conscience...This
chart [get the book to see the list, found on pages 34-35] is a worthy
ideal for attaining and diligently did John try to align his outward
life and inner soul with its regulations. He lived with such severity
that often one wonders whether he did not do himself a grave injustice...
It was this diligence in keeping his outward life conformed to his spiritual
idea that was the source of his power with others. As the Holy Club leader
John realized that great was his responsibility not only for rules but
for building those regulations into living experiences...
Charles became the singer of the Methodist revival as John was to be
its organizer. The third member was George Whitefield, the outstanding
evangelist and preacher of his generation. Whitefield joined the Holy
Club through a kindness of Charles in loaning him a book to read, which
burned through the outward shell of his religious life and set aflame
the passions of his soul. No man since Paul has been more entitled to
fame as a preacher than Whitefield.
George was the son of a tavern keeper, whose Christian mother asked him
to lead the singing one day for a women's meeting. From this kind request
George's feet were turned toward the Cross. Arriving at Oxford when eighteen,
time ripened his friendship with Charles and at length he became a new
creature in Christ.
"I found and felt in myself that I was delivered," he says, "from the
burden that had so heavily oppressed me...The Daystar arose in my heart.
I know the place; it may perhaps be superstitious, but whenever I go
to Oxford I cannot help running to the spot where Jesus Christ first
revealed Himself to me and gave me a new birth." [Interesting, the term born-again is
not so new.] This was 1735, the year he cast his lot with the Holy Club...
During 1733 John wrote two sermons which are of enticing doctrinal import
and mark a milestone in his theological thinking. The first of these
was on the need of the influence of the Holy Spirit to convert the soul.
This is the doctrine which Peter Behler was to impress on John's mind
"The circumcision of the heart," writes the Holy Club father,
"is that habitual disposition of soul, which in the sacred writings is
termed holiness; and which directly implies the being cleansed from sin,
from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit; and by consequence, the
being endued with those virtues which were also in Christ Jesus; the
being so renewed in the image of our mind, as to be perfect as our Father
in heaven is perfect."
This in plainest terms was Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection,
germs of which he had dug from the writings of his friend William Law. "This
sermon," he says in 1765, "contained all that I now teach concerning
salvation from all sin, and loving God with an undivided heart." Further
on in the sermon he says "He alone (the Spirit) can quicken those who
are dead unto God and breathe into them the breath of Christian life...Those
who are thus by faith born of God have also strong consolation through
hope. This is the next thing which the circumcision of the heart implies:
even the testimony of their own spirit, with the Spirit which witnesses
in their hearts, that they are the children of God." [taken from Romans
Here in this sermon,
"The Circumcision of the Heart," Wesley lays the foundation of the two
doctrines upon which the superstructure of his dogmatic position is to
be erected: Christian perfection and the witness of the Spirit. The latter
doctrine is John Wesley's one original contribution to the body of Christian
The second sermon is on the Holy Spirit who is justly given the rightful
position of import in the Christian's life. "From Him flow all grace
and virtue, by which the stains of guilt are cleansed, and we are renewed
in all holy dispositions, and again bear the image of our Creator," he
It was 1734...John's father, Samuel was sick, and the end seemed to be
leaning upon the corner of the Epworth rectory. Word was sent out for
one of the boys to come hastily and take his place, else the roof should
pass from over Susannah's graying head...
Samuel Jr., wrote John implying that since he was "despised" at Oxford
he could do more good at Epworth, to which John at once replied: "1.
A Christian will be despised anywhere. 2. No one is a Christian until
he is despised. 3. His being despised will not hinder his doing good,
but much further it, by making him a better Christian. 4. Another can
supply my place better at Epworth than at Oxford, and the good done here
is of a far more diffusive nature, inasmuch as it is a more extensive
benefit to sweeten the fountain than to do the same particular streams."...
Shortly the fate of the Club was to hang in the balance when the Wesley's
sailed to America. For awhile Whitefield held the group together until
in 1738 he followed his friends over the sea, to add luster to his own
name. And one by one members departed for other spheres of service, until
the Club was no more.
It had served its purpose by being the cradle of Methodism. Some looked
upon its first four members as being the charter members of the Methodist
Church. Nevertheless it threw around John an atmosphere of piety where
his own faith could germinate. Through three sons of genius, John, Charles
and George, gradually the spark of the Holy Club blazed at Oxford, showered
forth across England, leaped to America and the great revival was on.
Philosophically the basic doctrines of justification by faith and the
witness of the Spirit had already been written into John's soul, yet
they were not living experiential facts. Dogmatically he knew the doctrine
but he had not yet experienced it as a soul-transforming power. How to
make this transmutation he was to learn from a humble Moravian preacher.
GOD AND JOHN IN GEORGIA
John was God's man for a decisive hour, but he was an unmade
man, who needed the tutoring of the Holy Spirit to prepare him for the
Almighty's plan. Oxford, the Holy Club and now Georgia were God's crucibles
to mold John for his great adventure...Had there been no Georgia soul-culture
when John found he could not make a success of his spiritual life without
the Spirit's personal aid, there might have been no Aldersgate.
John's pre-Georgia religion was one of rules--rules unsparked by the
divine afflatus. It took the humiliating experience of failure
beyond the sea to teach John this needed yet costly lesson...
As God sent a whale for Jonah, so He whirled across the path of John's
boat a raging storm. Had the boat been heavier, or the storm not blown
up with the fury of doom riding in its wake, Wesley's soul travail might
have been told far otherwise than we today read of it. [This must have
been a very decent storm, and I'm a sailor.] But the storm came and the
boat being light rocked on the blood-curdling waves of the deep. John
was distraught...the passengers despaired of their lives...the crew pictured
the horrors of Davy Jones locker.
While the storm was raging, John looked at the Moravians, whom previously
he had thought of as heavy-minded and dull-witted folk, and they were
calmly singing a hymn. The wilder the waves, the calmer the Germans sang.
The storm passed as all of God's storms do when their missions are fulfilled.
But the storm in Wesley's turbulent soul could not be quieted by the
soothing efficacy of a still sea.
"I thank God, no," came the answer from one whose soul had been anchored
to the Rock of Christ.
Then John wondered if the women and children were afraid, for he thought
the strong man might have found a source of quietude in his physical
vigor. So John asked, "But were not your women and children afraid?"
Answered the man, "No, our women and children are not afraid to die."
John had been previously thinking about his soul's welfare, and when
a storm arose on November 23, he entered in his diary, "Sun. 23. At night
I was awakened by the tossing of the ship...and plainly showed I was
unfit, for I was unwilling to die."
But when he had gone through that sail-ripping, ship-soaking, skin-drenching
storm and had come out alive, he was certain those Moravians had an experience
to which he was a total stranger. This discovery was a startling one
and at the close of that day he entered in his Journal, "This was the
most glorious day which I have hitherto seen."
Its glory nestled in the fact that John had sighted the Light. It was
a distant Light, but for the first time he knew of its true existence.
It was this Light which at Aldersgate was to become a personal experience...
The following day he met the Moravian pastor, Spangenberg, whom John
at once sought out for a religious conference.
Spangenberg's first question rocked John back on his mental heels when
he asked, "My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have
you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness
with your spirit that you are a child of God?" Those questions were
new to Wesley, even though he had implied the possibility of this witness
in a previous sermon; yet the basis of his implication was theoretical
and not experimental.
Again the Moravian asked, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" This was
closer to John's thinking, and so he replied, "I know He is the Saviour
of the world." "True" came the pastor's rejoinder, "but do you know
He has saved you?"
This was a leading question, the answer to which John did not know; so
he hedged by saying, "I hope He has died to save me," to be countered
by Spangenberg's "Do you know yourself?" John finally managed to mumble, "I...do."
This left a blank in the Moravian's mind and set the mental machinery
of John's cranium whirling for two years trying to produce a true basis
in his own life for the doctrines he preached. He could not get away
from Spangenberg's question, and it was only when his heart "was strangely
warmed" at Aldersgate that he was satisfied with his own "I do" answer.
When he made the entry in his Journal, he added, "I fear they were vain
words." But after Aldersgate he not once again questioned his personal
salvation. It was this assurance of salvation which gave wings to his
words and produced the revival that we know as Methodism...
[John led the way into a new form of Praise &
However, all of John's time in Georgia was not lost, for he published
his "Collection of Psalms and Hymns" for general congregational use.
In a preface to a reprint it is suggested that this is the first collection
of hymns in the English language, "so that in this provision for the
improvement of public worship...Wesley led the way." Among the songs
were some of his father's which had been rescued from the Epworth fire,
as well as translations Wesley made from the German.
When the storm of that trial broke there was only one thing for John
to do, and that he did at once--left for England. He was a somber cleric,
his soul shot through with doubts when on December 2, 1737, he failed,
and he knew it as no other person. The high religious standards he had
set to attain in the Holy Club had eluded his spiritual grasp. He could
not get to them.
The entry in his Journal under the date of Tuesday January 24, 1738,
is tragical: "I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! Who shall
convert me? Who, what is he that shall deliver me from this evil heart
of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and
believe myself while no danger is near; but let death look me in the
face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, 'To die is gain'...I
show my faith by my works by staking my all upon it...O who will deliver
me from this fear of death?"
When he landed in England on the first of February, his soul once more
wallowed in the Slough of Despond, of which his Journal tells the turbulent
"This then have I learned in the ends of the earth, that I 'am fallen
short of the glory of God'; that my whole heart is 'altogether corrupt
and abominable'...that my own works, my own suffering, my own righteousness,
are so far from reconciling me to an offended God...I want that faith
which enables everyone that hath it to cry out, 'I live not...but Christ
liveth in me'...I want that faith...when 'the Spirit itself beareth witness
with his spirit that he is a child of God.'"
THE HEART STRANGELY WARMED
John before his Georgia mistakes was not a prepared subject
for God's soul-dealings, but once having walked the fiery path that led
to soul debasement, he was in a condition where God's prophetic voices
could be heard. Up until that time John was the Oxford don, the teacher
in any group, and as such was discontent to act as a learner. Having
discovered that as teacher he was as the blind leading the spiritually
blind, John was willing to throw himself at the feet of any who possessed
the true source of Christian knowledge.
In this condition he was ready to become a spiritual learner, and God
was not long in crossing his path with the man who was to serve as his
George Whitefield, won to the Master through Charles's kindness, had
early found the true source of divine power in his life. Finding it,
he shone as a brilliant evangelistic light. While John and Charles were
failing in America and entangling their lives in petty quarrels and religious
embarrassments, George had set to preaching. And when he arose to speak
it was as though a breeze from heaven had fanned across the audiences.
Groups began to talk and when it was announced the eloquent Oxford evangel
was to bring a message, churches were crowded to the doors. The hungry
people had never heard the like. Hearing, they went to their homes, only
to return and hear more.
George spoke on weekdays, often thirty times a week and usually three
our four times a Sunday, and weeping hearers followed him to the streets
and to his abode to get a word with him. His message was "the doctrine
of the new birth and justification by faith in Jesus Christ (which) made
its way like lightning into the hearers' consciences," as Whitefield
"I found my brother at Oxford...and with him Peter Bohler," John enters
in his Journal under the date of March 4, "by whom I was on Sunday, the
fifth, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of faith whereby alone
we are saved."
This turbulency of soul caused John to despair of ever preaching again,
and he told Bohler that he would "leave off preaching. How can you preach
to others, who have not faith in yourself?" Bohler urged him to continue
his gospel work, to which John retorted, "But what can I preach?"
Preach faith until you have it; and then because you have it, you will
came the Moravian's response.
John was not long in starting on this adventure, for he says, "Accordingly,
Monday 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started
back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith
alone was a prisoner under sentence of death."
The condemned man arose from prayer and exclaimed, "I am now ready to
die. I know Christ has taken away my sins, and there is no condemning
John was now willing to go all the way on this new salvation path. He
was ready to cast over his forms and rituals where he felt they constrained
his spirit in worship. On the following Sunday he took a leap into the
light which was to mark an important advance in the history of his work.
He tells about this thus:
"Being in Mr. Fox's society my heart was so full that I could not confine
myself to the forms of prayer which we were accustomed to use there.
Neither do I propose to be confined to them any more, but to pray...with
form or without as I find suitable to a particular occasion."
This was the birth of the religious freedom which was to mark his followers.
The ritualist in him was already destroyed, and the manacles had been
torn from his hands of devotion. "Soon the fetters would be broken which
bound his feet, and he would be running in the evangelical way." The
following Sunday, which was Easter, he preached in the college chapel
at Lincoln, using extempore prayer, and he closed the day with the entry
in his Journal, "I see the promise, but it is far off."
Week by week John continued his preaching as Sundays rolled around, and
meantime his searching went on with diligence. Seeing Bohler again he
was urged to find the Pearl of Great Price, which Wesley had determined
to take. Peter, relying on testimony to clinch his dogmatics, took with
him some Christian friends and visited John. Each one gave clear testimony
as to what Christ had done for them by changing their lives and transmuting
Peter's theories into living dynamic realities in their souls.
John was thunderstruck, for it seemed too good to be true that here were
people in the flesh who possessed what he was seeking, and this convinced
him that his search was in the right direction.
I was now thoroughly convinced," he said, "and by the grace of God, I
resolve to seek it unto the end: (1) By renouncing all dependence...upon
my own works of righteousness, on which I have grounded my hope of salvation...from
my youth up. (2) By adding to the constant use of all the other means
of grace continual prayer for this very thing, justifying, saving faith,
a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in Him as
my Saviour, as my sole justification, sanctification and redemption."
This was to be no trip to the halfway house up this rocky road to salvation
John was taking. He was determined to stop only when he had scaled the
peaks and sat watching the sunrise burst over the hills of God, and felt
the glow of redemption as a personal possession with his soul.
Charles caught the sunrise first, after reading Luther's "Commentary
on Galatians," praying, conversing with spiritually minded people. It
was on Whitsunday, 1738 while he was at the home of a poor woman, a recent
convert. Said the woman to the man sick in body and soul: "In the name
of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and believe, and thou shalt be healed of
all thy infirmities."
A friend read the words, "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered." Charles's eyes fell on the verse, "He hath put
a new song in my mouth..." as the hallelujah chorus swung into living
action, and God's redemptive work was accomplished in his soul.
On this Charles's believing and receiving day, John attended the Church
of St. Mary-le-Stand, grieving still that his redemption had not taken
place. Returning from the service, he wrote to a friend, "Let no one
deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained unto this faith.
By its fruits we shall know. Do we already feel peace with God and joy
in the Holy Ghost?...Does the Spirit bear witness?...Alas with mine he
does not...Let us be emptied of ourselves and then fill us with all peace
and joy in believing."
He was on a soul search which should cease only when he had found this
glorious peace. His spiritual quest went on by the hour until Wednesday,
May 24, arrived. Let him tell the story:
"Wed. May 24--I think it was about five this morning that I opened my
Testament on these words, 'There are given unto us exceeding great and
precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.'
"Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words 'Thou art not far
from the kingdom.'
"In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul's. The Anthem was, 'Out
of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord...O Israel, trust in the
Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy...'"
During that memorable soul-shaping day everything seemed to point John
to one thing--redemption as a soon-wrought work in his life. When evening
came down Adersgate Street not far from St. Paul's, John was unwillingly
dragged to a meeting.
"In the evening," he says, "I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate
Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the
Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change
God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely
The change had been wrought, the divine work accomplished. He had arrived
at the peak's top and there was the sunrise of glory in his soul.
"I felt I did trust in Christ," he goes on to relate,
"Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had
take away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
The glory had dawned and John was on his way down the divinely appointed
path that should to a world parish lead ere his religious sun set. Emptying
himself of self, God had come in. John the bungler now became John, the
gospel workman, the mallet of whose soul was to strike the carving chisel
of his personality with such sure blows that the statue he sculptured
remains as a divinely wrought achievement.
So great was the glory, so marvelous was the change, so grand was the
experience that John could not rest until he told it to another. The
brazier's house where Charles was staying being not far distant, John
went there with the glad news, which to his soul become the most wonderful
story in the world. Walking into Charles's room he said, "I believe..."
That was enough to set the joy bells ringing in Charles's heart, and
together the brothers lifted a song.
"towards ten my brother was brought in triumph by a troop of our friends,
and declared 'I believe.' We sang a hymn with great joy and parted with
Where shall my wondering soul begin:
How shall I to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire.
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?
This was the hymn Charles had begun on the Tuesday following
his own conversion, and with the many hundreds more he was to pen, furnished
the music for the spiritual revolution he and John were to sire.
The biographers have debated long and loud as to what really happened
at Aldersgate. Some affirm, and these the older, that John there dropped
all ritualistic attachment to the Church of England and at that moment
Methodism was born.
"Newman renounced justification by faith," affirms Riggs, "and clung
to apostolic succession; therefore he went to Rome. Wesley embraced justification
by faith, and renounced apostolic succession; therefore his people are
a separate people from the Church of England."...
What happened at Aldersgate? It is best to let John's own testimony stand
as to the change which his heart-warming experience brought about. Before
May 24, 1738, he felt he was not a Christian. After that date, he knew
he was, and the Spirit bore witness with his spirit that he was a child
of God. The trustworthiness of Wesley's testimony must stand or fall
with the trustworthiness of our consciousness. If the human mind is not
conscious of its own awareness as the spotlight of certainty is flashed
upon it, then truth is utterly without foundation and hence impossible.
Judged by the products of Wesley's life, Aldersgate stands by far as
the brightest spot in his life, or in the life of anyone of his century.
Before Aldersgate he was a bungler; after Aldersgate he was a lion in
God's kingdom who knew no defeat.
Returning home the night of his Aldersgate transformation, he wrote in
his Journal, "I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out and
they fled away...And herein I found the difference between this and my
former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all
my might under the law as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes,
if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror." Fitchett speaks
of this entry, "Here was struggle; but here too was victory."
John had received the witness that he was the son of God, and this assurance
gave him spiritual boldness. Henceforth he was ready to tackle the job
of converting the world by the truth of the message he had experienced.
Later he wrote to his brother Samuel, "I believe every Christian, who
has not yet received it, should pray for the witness of God's Spirit
that he is a child of God. This witness, I believe, is necessary to my
Wesley has been termed an organizer rather than a theologian, but he
did, however, make one distinct contribution to theological science,
and that is his doctrine of the witness of the Spirit. The Moravians
taught the doctrine, but it remained for John to systematize the dogma.
John was not content to remain idle, once he had planted his feet on
the solid rock of Christian assurance. On June 11, eighteen days after
his spiritual transformation, he preached before the University of Oxford
his famous sermon on "By grace are ye saved through faith." This message
sounded the keynote of his life-long ministry. He knew no other doctrine
save this one, and wherever we find Wesley in this post-Aldersgate term
of service, this is the message he heralds.
This doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus to which the Spirit bears
witness became the rallying cry of the new movement which he was soon
to bring into existence. Before entering his new work, that of being
a preacher of experimental salvation, John wished to visit Herrnhut,
the colony which Zinzendorf headed and where Moravian activies centered.
His Journal entry for June 7 reads, "I determined...to retire a short
time into Germany...And I hoped the conversing with those holy men who
were themselves living witnesses of the full power of faith, and yet
able to bear with those that are weak would be a means...of so establishing
my soul, that I might go on from faith to faith..."
From June until September of the year 1738 he spent traveling and visiting
Zinzendorf, where he obtained a close-up view of the Moravian work as
well as an intimate glimpse into their lives....
Back home again from foreign wanderings, he set about preaching the gospel
with dire earnestness. Wherever an occasion presented itself Wesley was
there with his new doctrine of the full assurance of salvation....
At once cudgels were taken up by the ministers against Wesley's doctrine
of assurance. Sermons were preached and printed against
"those who of late asserted that they who are not assured of their salvation
by a revelation from the Holy Ghost are in a state of damnation." Such
sermons were certainly heading toward a general refutation of Wesley's
work. John, however, was prepared to pay such a price for his religious
He had already made a beginning of a group which should in the end be
the foundation for the Methodist Church. Early in May, 1738, Peter Bohler
had advised him to establish Moravian societies in London...
Wesley was now in possession of the doctrine of the coming revival. His
soul was attuned to the heavenly chorus. Zeal was bursting within and
with the foundational society, he was ready for all comers.
During the remaining months of 1738 Wesley's work was composed mostly
of acting as religious advisor and confessor. He preached wherever occasion
presented, but his doctrines had become so adverse to the ordinary preaching
of the day that most ministers closed their churches to his ministry.
In all of London there were only three of four churches open to him by
the end of that year.
This exclusion is often spoken of as a sign of the Church's decay, for
it could not bear with the religious enthusiasm of such a stirring man.
This but hardened the steel of John's character, for he knew the doctrine
he proclaimed to be declared in the Bible and rooted in his experience. Firmly
he preached on, and, as the days passed, a growing consciousness possessed
him that his message should be heard more and more by the Fetter Lane
Society he had formed at the suggestion of Bohler. [i.e. He was led by
God's Spirit to start nurturing and feeding the flock the Lord had gathered
under his care.]
The group held weekly meetings for prayer and discussion. On New Year's
Eve, 1738-39, seven of the Oxford Methodists and sixty other people conducted
a watch night service and love feast, the results of which were to usher
Wesley into a new field of service.
"About three in the morning," says Wesley, describing the service, "as
we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily
upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell
to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and
amazement at the presence of His majesty we broke out with one voice,
'We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!'"
Whitefield pronounced this to be "the happiest New Year's Day he had
ever seen." Three days later the seven ministers, members of the Anglican
Church, met again, of which Whitefield writes, "What we were in doubt
about after prayer we determined by lot and everything was carried on
with great love, meekness and devotion. We continued in fasting and prayer
till three o'clock, and then parted with the conviction that God was
to do great things among us."
It was the prayer of this Fetter Lane Society that inaugurated Wesley's
next move, of which George, and not John, was to be the prime leader.
Indeed God was to do great things with the group.
THE WORLD HIS PARISH
When the churches shut their doors to the Oxford preachers,
God was opening another gate into which they were to step. It was from
this new adventure the revival was to begin. The low state of spiritual
life marking church and ministry was used of the Lord to turn Wesley's
attention to other fields of Christian endeavor to promote kingdom enterprises.
The turning came about on this order.
When Whitefield was twenty-one he was England's most popular pulpit orator.
His soul was aflame with the Holy Club message, salvation by faith, and
the newness of the doctrine along with the speaker's absolute control
over his audiences opened the hearts of the people, as well as their
pulpits, to him. John in Georgia felt the need of his preaching friend,
and so he wrote George asking him to come to the colony with his fiery
messages. Their boats crossed as we have elsewhere indicated.
Whitefield remained in Georgia six months and then returned to London
for the purpose of collecting money for an orphanage. Leaving as England's
most popular preacher, he expected to be so received again. But he discovered
to his amazement that he as well as John had been excluded from the London
pulpits. This was difficult for him to understand; so he decided to make
a preaching tour of Bristol, where he had previously been very popular.
The Bishop of London told Whitefield that his preaching was tinctured
with enthusiasm, as indeed the preaching of the new movement was to be,
and by the end of January all churches were closed to him. Arriving at
Bristol, the attitude of the London clergy George found had preceded
him. He was informed by the chancellor of the diocese that he could not
preach in Bristol churches without his license.
"Why did you not require a license from the clergyman that preached last
asked Whitefield, to which the chancellor replied, "That is nothing to
From church to church the evangelist went requesting a preaching appointment,
only in the end to find all Bristol pulpits closed to him. George, a
preaching soul, could not have his message stopped by the mere refusal
of a stated pulpit. He would make his own pulpit he declared. And that
declaration was the beginning of the Wesleyan revival.
Four miles from Bristol was Kingswood where lived a class of men who
had never seen inside a church nor heard the voice of a preacher. The
colliers of Kingswood were England's worst specimens of humanity. They
made up an ecclesiastical no-man's land. On Saturday, February 17, George
spoke to two hundred colliers on the Kingswood Common. He defied church
rules and fashions by preaching in the open air.
"I thought," he affirms, "it might be doing the service of my Creator,
who had a mountain for his pulpit and the heavens for a sounding board;
and who, when His Gospel was refused by the Jews, sent His servants into
the highways and hedges."
His first audience was small, but the mighty power of the man stirred
those colliers souls and they called for more. When George lifted his
voice the fifth time, on the Common before him was an audience of ten
thousand. He had found a new pulpit from which no churchly authority
could exclude him and an audience which no church could have assembled.
From victory to victory he went until a bowling green in Bristol was
offered and here he spoke to eight and ten thousand. The near-by districts
called for his open-air preaching, and in some instances he spoke to
twenty thousand people. His heart rolled high with enthusiasm, and he
decided to defy the London bishop with his new method of preaching.
He faced a dilemma. What could he do with the crowds he had gathered
at Bristol and Kingswood? He could not let them be as shepherdless sheep.
He decided to call for Wesley. But John with his little circle of London
friends was hesitant about taking the step. He did not feel that the
outside of a church was so proper a preaching station as the inside...
Wesley decided to go, even though from Bible guidance the trip seemed
to lead to his grave. Arriving in Bristol on March 31, it was difficult
for him to take the outdoor step, for in his heart he was still bound
by the confines of Anglicanism. Standing by Whitefield as he preached
on Sunday, Wesley looked out at the sea of faces before the orator. His
heart was moved, for he felt here indeed was an audience to whom God
would have him deliver his message.
The next day, April 2, at four in the afternoon John stood on a little
eminence outside the city and spoke to three thousand listeners from
the text, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed
me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted;
to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;
to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year
of the Lord."
That was a memorable text and a memorable occasion. In reality it formed
the beginning of Wesley's new work. Thinking upon field preaching he
brought himself to feel that the Sermon on the Mount "was one pretty
remarkable precedent." John had tasted the joy of "field preaching," as
it was termed, and he wanted to go back for more of its soul enticement.
Here was a crowd of people to whom his message came as a bursting light
from heaven, and he would not deny them this glimpse of Christ...
When brother Samuel heard about this open-air preaching, he too was quite
shocked, for he never seemed to catch the meaning of his brother's life
or message. John's reply is famous:
"God in Scripture commands me according to my power to instruct the ignorant,
reform the wicked, confirm the virtuous. Man forbids me to do this in
another's parish; that is, in effect, to do it all, seeing I have now
no parish of my own, nor probably ever shall. Whom then shall I hear:
God or man?...
"I took upon the world as my parish. Thus far, I mean, that in whatever
part of it I am, I judge it meet, right and my bounden duty to declare
unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation."
This is Wesley's Magna Charta. From thenceforth on he was forever done
with bishops when their indictments ran contrary to God's will for his
Blasphemers cried for mercy; sinners were smitten to the earth in deep
conviction; even passing travelers were so affected..."During these weeks
small societies were growing up which were modeled upon the Fetter Lane
Society in London. There were two in Bristol, one on Nicholas and the
other on Baldwin Street. Wesley saw the necessity of having a place for
the groups to worship, and so he laid the foundation on which all of
Methodism's churches throughout the world were to arise.
Taking possession of a piece of ground near St. James' Church in Horsefair,
Bristol, he held it in the name of eleven trustees. At the time he did
not realize the depth of this act's meaning, but as the years went by
it became evident that here was the seed from which the systematization
of his work was to come..,
All the early buildings of Methodism were built by Wesley personally.,.
Nor was the new building to remain idle long, for just three weeks after
laying the cornerstone, Wesley entered in his Journal,
"Not being permitted to meet in Baldwin Street, we met in the shell of
our new society room. The Scripture which came in course to be explained
was, 'Marvel not if the world hate you.' We sang:
Arm of the Lord, awake!
Thine own immortal strength put on.
And God, even our own God, gave His blessings"
Thus in Wesley's own building was held the first meeting of
his society. This was a mighty step forward in his final break with the
Church of England. The little building was to have an interesting future.
In it during John's lifetime eighteen conferences were to sit, and from
the old pulpit he expounded the Acts of the Apostles, which he declared
to be "the inalienable charter" of the Church of God...
Wesley returned to London in June, 1739, where he preached indoors and
out as opportunity was granted. In the autumn the weather turned unusually
cold for open-air preaching. Two gentlemen invited him to speak in the
city one November Sunday in a building then unused. Thirty years before,
this had been a foundry where an explosion wrecked the building. The
government moved the cannon works elsewhere and since, the building had
been in ruins. Finally it was leased and afterwards restored and almost
rebuilt at a cost of $4,000.
The preaching room would seat fifteen hundred. There was also a small
band room seating three hundred. One end of the chapel was fitted as
a schoolroom and on the opposite end was the book room. The "Collection
of Psalms and Hymns," published in 1741, was imprinted "Sold at the Foundry,
Upper Moorefields." Above the band room were John's apartments where
his mother was to spend her declining years.
"I preached at eight o'clock to five or six thousand," he says of the
first Foundry service on Sunday, November 11, 1739, 'on the Spirit of
Bondage and the Spirit of Adoption,' and at five in the evening in the
place which had been the king's foundry for cannon. O hasten Thou the
time when nation shall not rise up against nation, neither shall learn
John now had the makings of a new movement which should center around
his personality. His break with the Church of England was as complete
as it could be until his death. He was in possession of his particular
doctrine, and with two buildings, one at Bristol and the other at London,
he was ready to launch forth in aggressive evangelism.
That Foundry was to be the pivot and headquarters around which John's
movement was to revolve for thirty-eight years. It was to be superseded
by City Road Chapel only when it was insufficient to meet the needs of
the organization which John's personality brought into being. Time and
again it was crowded out, until in 1775 Wesley obtained property some
two hundred yards distant from the Foundry, and on a stormy April day,
1777, he laid the cornerstone of the City Road Chapel...
Wesley viewed his work seriously, believing that his life had been channelized
in the broad current of the divine will. He took the future in his
stride, meeting opposition by evangelism, overcoming obstacles by organization. When
preachers wrote against him he answered in kind, always keeping his ear
attuned to the voice of the people who came to hear him.
He had undertaken a task as broad as any man's since Paul lost his head
to Nero's axman. If the world was to be his parish it would demand the
blessings of heaven upon his work as well as the proper organization
of his converts into a dynamic force. The expediency which gave birth
to the organization was upon him.
THE MASTER BUILDER
The Fetter Lane Society had already given John the practical
plan by which to centralize his growing work. He had touched thousands
with the Gospel, and to Wesley these people looked for spiritual guidance...
Problems came up in the Fetter Lane Society which resulted in a small
group of Wesley's followers withdrawing from its fellowship. This was
a nucleus which was to form the center of John's new group.
Near the close of 1739, eight or ten people came to Wesley, then in London,
with the request that he should meet with them for prayer and counsel.
Agreeing to do so he set aside Thursday evening for this purpose.
"The first evening," he says, "about twelve persons came; the next week
thirty or forty. When they were increased to about a hundred, I took
down their names and places of abode intending as often as it was convenient
to call upon them at their houses. Thus without any previous plan
began the Methodist Society in England--a company of people associating
together to help each other to work out their salvation." [What did
Paul say in Ephesians 4? That the work of the Church is to what? "And
He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,
and some pastors and teachers, FOR THE EDIFYING OF THE BODY OF
CHRIST, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge
of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of
the fullness of Christ..." The number one responsibility of the
church is to edify its' members, the children of God--not to evangelize.
Evangelism is a by-product of spiritually healthy people as pastor Chuck
Smith brings out in his book HARVEST.] Remembering the words of the "serious
man" who had long ago during Oxford days told him, "The Bible knows nothing
of solitary religion," it was easy for John to form his societies for
spiritual advancement. Early in April of that same year he had held meetings
with his converts for counsel and guidance. In Bristol he took the names
of three women who "agreed to meet together weekly," along with the names
of four men who planned to do the same.
"If this be not of God, let it come to naught," he had said at the time. "If
it be, who can hinder it?"
The Bristol group was but the seed from which the London Society was
to spring, of which Wesley says, "This was the rise of the United Society,
first in London, and then in other places."
This was a most worthy occasion, and John as always was anxious to found
it in Scripture. He felt his work was moving in the general direction
of that of the Apostles.
"In the earliest times," he says, "those whom God had sent forth preached
the Gospel to every creature...As soon as they were convinced of the
truth as to forsake sin and seek Gospel salvation, they immediately joined
them together, took account of their names, advised them to watch over
each other and met those catechumens...apart from the great congregation
that they might instruct, rebuke, exhort and pray with them..."
Feet solidly resting on Bible grounds, he went forward rapidly.
"Thus arose without any previous design on either side, what was commonly
called a society; a very innocent name, and very common in London for
any number of people associating themselves together."
When the Foundry Society had begun, the first to be directly controlled
by Wesley, the Fetter Lane group was still in existence; but trouble
arose on July 20, 1740, which caused seventy-two of the members to unite
with Wesley's group.
He had bound them together in a united whole, but he found a further
step to be necessary. The people were widely scattered throughout London,
and as such it was impossible for him to keep an oversight of their personal
life. This gave birth to a new working unit, of which he says, "At length
while we were thinking of quite another thing we struck upon a method
for which we have cause to bless God ever since."
He broke down his parent society into smaller working units known as "classes." When
this plan was outlined it was proposed for a different end altogether.
There was still a debt on the Bristol Horsefair meeting house, so John
called together the principal men and asked how it could be met. Said
one of the men, "Let every member of the society give a penny a week." Said
another, "But many of them are poor and cannot afford to do it."
Captain Foy, the first speaker, suggested , "Then put eleven of the poorest
with me and if they can give anything, well; I will call on them weekly
and if they can give nothing, I will give for them as well as for myself.
And each of you call on eleven of your neighborhood weekly, receive what
they give and make up what is wanting."
While the stewards were visiting their eleven's for money purposes, the
caught rumors of how the men were living. These lax conditions were reported
to John, who like a flash saw the spiritual implications of his group
plan. He said, "This is the thing; the very thing we have wanted so long."
Immediately he called together the leaders of these financial classes,
unfolded his scheme and told them to inform him as to how the people
were living in their groups. In London the same plan was put into operation
April 25, when he called his leaders together and perfected his mobile
working force. "This was the origin of our classes in London," he states,
"for which I can never sufficiently praise God, the unspeakable usefulness
of the institution having ever since been more manifest."
It was in this talent for organization that Wesley's superiority over
Whitefield is to be found. Whitefield was the popular pulpit orator,
speaking to as many as sixty to eighty thousand people at a time. But
he knew little or nothing about uniting these forces in workable and
controllable units, while John understood the force of small bodies
and knew how to harness his man power. [This could have been the predecessor
of the modern house fellowship.] Whitefield's work was soon
dissipated while Wesley's remains, for the latter built upon the foundation
of linking man to man for workable schemes.
There would have been little or no Methodism without such a capacity.
It was at this time that John began using the term "Methodists" in reference
to his followers. "I preached at Moorfields to about ten thousand, and
at Kennington Commons to, I believe, near twenty thousand," he enters
in his Journal for Sunday, September 9..."at both places I described
the real difference between what is generally called Christianity and
the true old Christianity, which under the new name of Methodism is now
also everywhere spoken against."
John soon found it impractical for the class leaders to visit each member
at his own home; so it was decided to hold a weekly meeting at some central
place, which caused them "to bear one another's burdens...And as they
had daily a more intimate acquaintance, so they had a more endeared affection
for each other."
The next step was the institution of weekly meetings for the class leaders,
who were untutored men for the most part, "having neither gifts nor graces
for such divine employment." For this purpose a Tuesday-night meeting
was arranged, concerning which Wesley remarked, "It may be hoped they
will all be better than they are, both by experience and observation
and by the advices given them by the minister every Tuesday night, and
the prayers offered up for them."
A forward step in the societies together was taken on February 23, 1743,
when Wesley issued his General Rules. The society was defined "as a company
of men, having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in
order to pray together, to receive word of exhortation and watch over
one another in love..."
The members were to evidence their desire for salvation "by doing no
harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally
practiced." They were also to "avoid such diversions as cannot be used
in the name of the Lord."
John realizing that spirituality is endangered by use of the means of
grace wrote into his rules, and urged his followers to be faithful in
public worship, attend to the ministry of the Word, partake of the Lord's
Supper, fast and pray as well as conduct family and private prayers.
In well-erected segments Wesley hereby laid the broad platform upon which
his followers were to be molded into a church...Shortly a voluntary division
of classes into bands came about. Another revival from ancient time was
that of the love feast or agape, to which service only members
holding class tickets were admitted. A little plain cake and water was
used as a token of spiritual friendship which was followed by a service
of Christian testimony...
Gradually it became necessary for John and Charles to make provision
for their followers to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Very
shortly Wesley was forced to separate his societies from the Church of
England in that not only the Wesley's themselves were excluded from the
parishes, but their members or followers as well. This is especially
true after 1740. It therefore was their ministerial duty to supply the
Sacrament to their converts who were thus denied this sacred privilege...
Performing this sacred duty without the bishop's authorization brought
the anethemas of the Church upon John's and Charles's heads. They were
called before the bishops at London to answer for their actions. Samuel
went so far as to declare that he would "much rather have them picking
straws within the walls than preaching in the area of the Moorfields--referring
to the half-witted actions of those incarcerated in insane asylums..."
This represents the views of the clergy of John's day, as well as of
his brother. The Church might be lax morally, but there was still enough
life left in her to arouse the bishops when a schism was impending. Forgetful
of the Church's seeming wrath for her wayward son, John went on with
his message of redemption heralded for high and low alike. The glorious
blessings of God walked by his side in this battle against evil...
Possibly the climax of Wesley's ill treatment at the hands of established
ministers came when he visited Epworth, the scene of his birth. Going
to services in the morning he offered to assist the rector, Mr. Romley,
who had been schoolmaster at Wroote, but his offer had been declined.
The house was packed at the afternoon meeting, for it had been rumored
that John would bring the message. Instead the rector read a florid message
against enthusiasm, directed at the visiting cleric and his followers.
The people would not be disappointed, for as they came out of the church,
John Taylor announced that Wesley, not being permitted to preach from
the pulpit, would speak at six that evening in the churchyard. When time
for the service arrived, John climbed on his father's tombstone and delivered
his message to the largest crowd ever seen at Epworth.
The scene was unique and inspiring--a living son preaching on the dead
father's grave because the parish priest would not allow him to officiate
in a dead father's church. "I am well assured," says Wesley, "that I
did far more good to my Lincolnshire parishioners by preaching three
days on my father's tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit." The
folk pressed him to remain longer, and for eight evenings he climbed
on the tomb and delivered his messages. During the days he preached in
the surrounding villages as occasion was granted.
Nor were the results of those graveyard messages lacking. On the final
Sunday evening, Wesley's voice was drowned by the cries of those seeking
salvation. The last meeting continued for three hours, so tender the
touch of heaven and the ties of friendship.
"We scarce knew how to part...Near forty years did my father labor here;
but he saw little fruit of all his labor. I took some pains among his
people...but now the fruit appeared...but the seed sown long since now
sprung up bringing forth repentance and remission of sins."...
John's growing movement faced him with numerous problems, the most serious,
once the Episcopal hands were off him, that of dealing with his members
who felt the urge to ascend the pulpit and declare the message of God.
He had no authority to make ministers of them by the laying on of hands.
Time alone was to solve this problem. At his Kingswood School, Master
John Cennick, son of a Quaker, had spoken several times without authority
in 1739. But John thought little of this, feeling that his position as
teacher gave Cennick unusual rights which did not adhere to other laymen.
While John excused Cennick, he did not think this had established a precedent.
It was early in 1740, while his mother was still blessing his life with
her presence, word came to Bristol, where John was at the time, that
Thomas Maxwell had presumed to preach before the Foundry Society. This
alarmed John and so he rushed back to London where he sought to deal
with this troublesome fellow.
Susannah met him, saying, "John, take heed what you do with reference
to that young man for he is as surely called to preach as you are." Heeding
his mother's words, Wesley attended a service where Maxwell was the speaker.
He listened quietly to the message and then said:
"It is the Lord's doing;. Let him do what seemeth good. What am I that
I should withstand God?"
Convinced that Maxwell was God's anointed minister, Wesley encouraged
him by sanctioning his work as a lay preacher. This was the beginning
of a remarkable rise of lay workers in Wesley's societies. Before the
year was out there were twenty such preachers, heralding the doctrines
they had learned from John. Among the outstanding ones was John Nelson,
a stonecutter who had been converted under Wesley's ministry.
Once converted Nelson said, "If it be my Master's will, I am ready to
go to hell and preach to the devils." It enraged the clergymen of the
Established Churches to see a stonecutter preaching the Gospel, and doing
it far better than they with all their boasted training. During one of
Nelson's sermons he was set upon by bullies and almost beaten to death.
Such were the persecutions which Wesley's lay workers faced to preach
As time passed John faced another problem, that of women preachers. True
he had the example of Susannah who held forth in the Epworth pulpit--and
did it more successfully than her Samuel. Mary Bosanquet, who married
Fletcher of Mandeley, had opened an orphanage with her own money. She
was assisted by Sarah Crosby, who with Mary began addressing members
of the society. She asked Wesley's judgment on the matter, saying, "If
I did not believe I had an extraordinary call, I would not act in an
This was in 1771 and Wesley replied that since she possessed "an extraordinary
call" she should be free to continue her preaching. It was this divine afflatus which
he recognized as the qualifying attribute for lay preachers." [i.e. John
recognized the anointing of the Holy Spirit on others, anointing them
for special tasks and/or the ministry. This allowed a stable God-ordained
Spirit led may ministry to be established.]
FORWARD INTO A NOBLE FUTURE
It was but natural for the mobs to set upon Wesley and his
workers--frowned upon by the clergy and opposed by the bishops. This
was the price John was to pay for the victory of his success when England
and the world took his movement to her bosom. Crowds came to hear his
messages--five, ten and even twenty thousand--and with the crowds were
the mobs. It is almost unbelievable the number of times John refers to
the wrath of his enemies and the serious attempts even at his own life
as well as that of his co-workers...
A six-day riot broke out in that district, while John was in London,
of which he affirms, "I was not surprised at all; neither should I have
wondered if, after advices they had so often received from the pulpit
as well as from the Episcopal chair, the zealous High Churchmen had risen
and cut all Methodists to pieces."...
Returning they were met by a mob from Walsall who showed fight, and soon
overpowered John's new friends. This left the preacher in the hands of
his enemies once more. A big fellow struck him several times with a heavy
club, but missed. If the blow had taken effect Wesley says "it would
have saved all further trouble. But every time the blow was turned aside,
I know not how, for I could not move to the right hand or the left."
John was struck on the mouth, across the face, over the head, until blood
gushed from open wounds, but he felt no pain. Dragged through the town,
John made for an open door, which proved to be the mayor's, only to be
denied entrance. This man thought his house would be torn down if Wesley
When he gained the attention of the crowd, people began yelling, "Knock
his brains out. Down with him. Kill him." Others shouted, "We will hear
him once." When he began to speak he lost his voice suddenly, and the
crowd was on him again. When strength returned John began to pray at
the top of his lungs. A ruffian stepped to the fore and said, "Sir, I
will spend my life for you. Follow me, and not one soul here shall touch
a hair of your head."...
"I never saw such a chain of providences, so many convincing proofs that
the hand of God is on every person and thing, overruling all as it seemeth
Him good." [cf. Daniel 4]...
John learned to eye these mobs. He had a rule "always to look a mob in
the face." When at St. Ives a mob attempted to break up his meeting,
he says, "I went into the midst and brought the head of the mob to the
desk. I received but one blow on the side of the head, after which we
reasoned the case, till he grew milder and milder and at length undertook
to quiet his companions.
At Plymouth-dock when the crowd became venomous, John "walked down into
the thick of them and took the captain of the mob by the hand. He immediately
said, "Sir, I will see you safely home. Sir, no man shall touch you.
Gentlemen, stand off; give back. I will knock down the first man that
There seemed to be no limit to which this violence went. Often they stoned
Wesley; gangs set upon him, and dragging him into alleys, would leave
him for dead. Once while preaching at Gwennap two men rode furiously
into the congregation and laid hold of the people. As John commenced
singing, one man cried, "Seize the preacher for His Majesty's service." When
his servants were unwilling to do this, the leader jumped from his horse,
seized John by the cassock and led him away three-quarters of a mile.
On finding John to be a gentleman, the man offered to take the preacher
home, but Wesley declined this favor; so the man sent for horses and
took John back to his preaching place. Wesley--undaunted by the bravado--arose
to complete the service.
The sermons against John were as violent as the actions of the mobbers.
At Bristol in 1743 a clergyman shuttled terrible messages at Wesley.
Finishing his course the cleric was about to repeat them in the Church
of St. Nicholas, when immediately on announcing his text, he was seized
with a throat rattle, and falling backward in the pulpit, died the following
Sunday. In other cases those who tried to wound or murder the preachers
were themselves wounded or died at the hands of their companions in arms.
This violence continued until 1757 when peace reigned throughout the
ranks of Methodism. This was brought about by the wise leadership and
perfect command which John had over his forces. Isaac Taylor asserted, "When
encountering the ruffianism of mobs and of magistrates, he showed a firmness
as well as guileless skill, which, if the martyr's praise might be of
such an adjunct, was graced with the dignity and courtesy of a gentleman."
John's heroism was perfect, and not once was he forsaken by self-possession.
The serenity of his temper, mobs could not ruffle. In the face of bravery
and self-command the threatenings of the rabble could not stand. John
always triumphed in the end. During those turbulent years when mobs
fought him and clergymen condemned his work, Wesley went straight into
the future, his mind racing with plans, his soul aflame with messages,
the while busy binding his societies into a workable unit...
Holding the reins over a growing group of lay preachers, which in the
end numbered seven hundred, Wesley had to be forceful and dominant. To
a flowery preacher who had strayed far afield from simple oratory, he
wrote, "I hope you have now quit your queer, arch expressions in preaching,
and that you speak as plain and dull as one of us."
His generalship extended even to advice to preachers on the masterly
art of being profound yet simple. "Scream no more, at the peril of your
soul," he advised a lay worker. "God now warns you by me, whom He has
set over you. Speak as earnestly as you can but do not scream. Speak
with all your heart; but with a moderate voice...I often speak loud,
often vehemently, but I never scream. I never strain myself; I dare not;
I know it would be a sin against God and my own soul." ...[Very sound
advice to all who would preach.]
Wesley laid the foundation of his success by absolute authority in command.
Like a general, he asked for advice but always reserved the right to
act upon it.
On the matter of conferences Wesley recognized that his word must be
final. Others might enter into discussions, but when John once spoke
there was no appeal...During his own lifetime John determined to control
the conferences, but after his death he made disposition of rulership
by affirming that Methodism was to be governed by the Annual Conference
Yet with all this dictatorial power Wesley had the universal esteem of
his people. Southey expresses this sentiment in his biography, "No founder
of a monastic order ever more entirely possessed the respect as well
as the love and admiration of his disciples." He drew the converts to
him with personal warmth flaming into affection.
It was one thing to unite individuals as such to him, but quite another
to join the societies with something besides Whitefield's rope of sand.
During the first five years of his itinerancy--1739-1744--Wesley had
drawn forty-five preachers to himself, who supported themselves by working
at their secular tasks in intervals of their preaching journeys...
That little Foundry conclave was the initiation of the famous Methodist
Conference which have been the Church's executive backbone for almost
two hundred years. There were present the two Wesley's, four other clergymen
and four lay assistants. During this time they considered things--what
to teach, how to teach, and how to regulate doctrine, discipline and
Doctrinal problems such as the fall, the work of Christ, justification,
regeneration, and sanctification were fully discussed. Answering the "how
to teach" problem, they decided that every sermon must invite, convince,
offer Christ, build up the believer. This indeed was a large order for
a single sermon, especially considering the fact that most ministers
were untrained laymen. [Sermons in the Calvary Chapel revival tend to
fulfill these requirements quite well.]
Twelve rules were laid down for the guidance of lay assistants:
- Be diligent; never be unemployed a moment; never be triflingly employed
(never while away the time); spend no more time at any place than is
- Be serious. Let your motto be: Holiness unto the Lord. Avoid all
lightness as you would avoid hell-fire, and laughing as you would cursing
- Touch no woman; be as loving as you will, but hold your hands off
'em. Custom is nothing to us.
- Believe evil of no one. If you see it done, well; else heed how you
- Speak evil of no one...Keep your thoughts within your own heart...
- Tell everyone what you think is wrong in him...
- Do nothing as a gentleman: you have no more to do with this character
than with that of a dancing-master. You are the servant of all therefore.
- Be ashamed of nothing but sin: not of fetching wood, or drawing water,
if time permit; not of cleaning your own shoes or your neighbor's.
- Take no money of anyone. If they give you food when you are hungry,
or clothes when you need them, it is good. But not silver or gold.
Let there be no pretense to say: We grow rich by the Gospel.
- Contract no debt without my knowledge.
- Be punctual: do everything exactly on time...
- Act in all things not according to your own will but as a son of
the Gospel. As such, it is your part to employ your time in the manner
which we direct: partly in visiting the flock...partly in such course
of reading, meditation and prayer as we advise from time to time. Above
all, if you labor with us in our Lord's vineyard, it is needful you
should do that part of the work we prescribe at those times which we
judge most for His glory.
These rules were lengthy and detailed, but Wesley felt the
lay workers were the heart of the Gospel appeal, and as such needed his
guidance. It is interesting to note that they decided to spread the work
by going "a little and little farther from London, Bristol, St. Ives,
Newcastle or any other society. So a little leaven would spread with
more effect...and help would always be at hand."
It was by this procedure that Wesley in his lifetime saw his societies
cross England, reach into Ireland, Scotland and Wales and then leap across
the ocean to America.
The matter of selecting proper lay preachers called for a definition
as to abilities to be sought. "Q. How shall we try those who believe
they are moved by the Holy Ghost and called of God to preach?" "A. Inquire:
1. Do they know in whom they have believed?...Are they holy in all manner
of conversation [this middle-English word means conduct.] 2. Have
they the gifts as well as the grace for the work? Have they in some tolerable
degree a clear, sound understanding? Have they the right judgment in
the things of God? Have they a conception of salvation by faith? And
has God given them any degree of utterance? Do they speak justly, readily,
clearly? 3. Have they success? Do they not only speak as generally either
to convince or affect the hearts?
At Leeds in 1766 Wesley was careful to impress upon his preachers
the necessity of possessing a book-shelved mind, and entered in the minutes, "Read
the most useful books...Steadily spend all the morning in this employ,
or at least five hours in twenty-four...'But I have no taste for reading.'
Contact a taste for it by use or return to your trade." John was trying
to make certain there were to be no preachers the feet of whose minds
paced across their sermons with a leaden step...
It is interesting that John was always on the lookout for little services
he could perform for his preachers. This caused him to enforce a rule
in 1774 that "every circuit shall find the preacher's wife a lodging,
coal and candles, or L15 a year" to purchase these necessities, and later
$20-a-year allowance was given for each child.
The education of preachers' children called for consideration, and as
a result of a $4,000 gift by a lady, the Kingswood school was enlarged
with various facilities for the preachers' children in addition to those
furnished the colliers' lads and lassies. This enlargement came about
in 1748, when the most strict rules were enforced by Wesley for the control
of students and teachers...
When asked what would keep his work alive, John answered, "The Methodists
must take heed of their doctrine, their experience, their practice, and
their discipline. If they attend to their doctrine only, they will make
the people Antionomians; if to the experimental part of religion only,
they will make them enthusiasts; if to the practical part only, they
will make them Pharisees; and if they do not attend to their discipline,
they will be like persons who bestow much pains in cultivating their
gardens, and put no fence round it to save it from the wild boars of
TRAVELING THE GLORY ROAD
John Wesley was one of that large army of mighty little men.
When seventeen he was spoken of as "a very little fellow," and from then
on he never grew any more. Never in his life did he stand over five-feet-five,
nor weigh much over a hundred and twenty pounds. But into that small
stature he packed the genius of an achieving man.
His was a long and glory-topped career. During the more than forty years
he spent on horseback he traveled a quarter of a million miles. He preached
forty-two thousand sermons and when the total of his books is summed
they come to more than two hundred.
In John's prime he suffered a severe attack of tuberculosis which cause
him to compose the epitaph he thought would mar (grace) his tomb:
Here Lieth the Body
A Brand plucked from the Burning:
Who died of a Consumption in the Fifty-first Year
Of his Age,
Not leaving, after his Debts are paid,
Ten pounds behind him:
God be merciful to me, an Unprofitable Servant!
He ordered that is, if any, inscription should be placed on his tombstone.
Thirty-four years later on his eighty-fifth birthday he thought
back on the long trail which wound to the cradle that graced the Epworth
rectory, recalling thirty-four years with practically no aches or pains,
and he wrote in his Journal the sources to which he imputed his perfect
- To my constant exercise and change of air.
- To my never having lost a night's sleep, sick or well, at land or
at sea, since I was born.
- To my having sleep at command, so that, whenever I feel myself almost
worn out, I call it and it comes day or night.
- To my having constantly for over sixty years risen at four in the
- To my constant preaching at five in the morning for above fifty
- To my having had so little pain in my life, and so little sorrow
or anxious care."
During the forty years of his horseback ministry, John rode
on the average twenty miles a day, and often within the round of twenty-four
hours he horse-backed as much as a hundred miles. He laid the secret
of his tremendous accomplishments to the time-defying schedule with which
he charted the course of his day. From his early injunction never to
waste time he could not release himself. Checking through his Journal
for instance on June 23, 1787, in his eighty-fourth year, we find this
"Sat. 4:30, prayed, sermon. 8 tea, conversed, sermon; 2:30 dinner, conversed,
sermon; 4:30 tea, conversed; 6 Matt. 13:33; 7 at Mr. Smythe's, sermon;
8 supper, conversed, prayer, on business; 9:45." [six hours of sleep
a night. I do this barely, but six hours of sleep a night is a tough
road for most of us.]
That was the log of a Wesleyan day and little did he deviate from such
a schedule except to change the activities in which he engaged due to
the exigencies of circumstances. To him time was all important, and once
when he lost five minutes it required much water to run under the bridge
of his life before he could forget those "five minutes lost forever."
He tutored himself to read while on horseback, and often as he jogged
along the country roads of England his pen would be busy writing letters
or even composing notes for sermons or articles that should in time find
their way into books.
He knew England's highways and byways as no man of his generation. His
innumerable hours hummed with the business of executing expeditiously
the affairs of the societies. Thinking back through a hundred thousand
miles of good horsemanship he discovered the secret of success with his
mounts--"I rode with a slack rein." And in all his traveling he affirms
that never had a horse stumbled with him, "except two, that would fall
head over heels anyway." He goes on to say,
"A slack rein will prevent stumbling, if anything will. But some horses
His horse sense (ability to read horses) evidently stood on as
high an I.Q. level as his ability to read humans with whom the lot of
his life was cast. A quaint picture indeed of John made when he was an
old man he would jog along at an easy pace on a faithful mount, leaving
the road to the horse's nose, while the rider's was deep in some book
such as Priestly's Treatise on Electricity.
John loved horseflesh, even punctuating the spiritual admonitions of
Conference minutes with practical advice about the care of animals, admonishing
his preachers to save souls but to remember that every one "shall see
with his own eyes his horse rubbed, fed and bedded."
How the man could find time to turn out of his mind's gristmill two hundred
and thirty-three original works is more than one can understand, did
not his Journal chart John's long career through those many ministerial
years. Besides this the man had the habit of editing paraphrasing, clipping
and altering, and, as one biographer phrases it, "sometimes mutilating" the
works of other men. Among these were 183 volumes which he sent through
his thought machine, often hewing upon the mental output of others.
John's pen touched all subjects. He wrote many histories, English, Roman,
etc., composed a book on logic, completed a text on primitive physic
for the guidance of his people in matters of health. He wrote grammars
of Hebrew, Greek, French and English along with an excellent English
In January, 1778, he published the first volume of The Arminian Magazine, with
the first editorial reading, "To the Reader. It is usual, I am informed,
for the compilers of magazines, to employ outside covers in acquiring
the courteous reader with the beauties and excellencies of what he will
find within. I beg him to excuse me from this trouble...for writing a
pangyric upon myself...I am content this magazine shall stand or fall
by its own intrinsic value...
"It is usual likewise with magazine writers to speak of themselves in
the plural number...And indeed it is the general custom of great men
so to do. But I am a little one. Let me then be excused in this also
and permitted to speak as I am accustomed to do. John Wesley."
Wherever John went his saddlebags were stuffed with cheap books which
he sold or gave to the people. "Two and forty years ago," he says later
in life, "having a desire to furnish poor people with cheaper, shorter
and plainer books than any I have seen, I wrote many tracts, generally
a penny apiece, and afterward several larger ones. Some of these have
such a sale as I never thought of; and by this means I became unawares
rich," all of which, however, he gave away.
In 1872 he and Coke started the first tract society, which is seventeen
years before the Religious Tract Society of London was formed, and even
forty years earlier, thousands of "Wesley's Word to a Smuggler," "Word
to a Sabbath-breaker," "Word to a Swearer" and similar tracts titles
were in circulation.
During the years 1749-55 he edited a fifty-volume Christian Library,
practically the only venture on which he lost money, the sum being a
thousand dollars. Wesley's Notes on the New Testament is a classic
for brevity and spiritual tone. This, along with his Fifty-three Sermons, forms
of doctrinal standards of early Methodism. John was as much at home in
the Greek Testament as in the English Bible.
For forty years Wesley conducted a book store, which was first opened
at the Book Room in the Foundry. When the City Road Chapel was erected
the business was moved there in 1777. It was this which gave rise to
the several Methodist publishing houses existing in various sections
of the world.
Nor could John be idle in the field of sacred hymnology. When his own
soul had tasted Pentecost in 1738, he and Charles issued a hymnbook for
general use in their societies. This was to be followed by fifty-three
other hymnal publications, which on the average is one each year until
John's death. In 1778 the large hymnbook came out, titled "A Collection
of Hymns for Use of the People called Methodists." In this are 525 hymns
selected from twenty-one previous books which he and Charles had written
It is but natural that a man who lived so long should at least have seasons
when his heart was warmed in affection toward women. In John's life there
was really but one woman who unlocked the memory-casket of his heart
and she was the memorable Susannah, at whose funeral he spoke. However,
he seemed to be possessed by a weakness for his nurses. There were three
women who greatly moved Wesley's heart, and each of them was a nurse...
Having at length made up his mind to marry in 1751, he did so with the
utmost dispatch. Again he suffered a sickness which called for the services
of a nurse, said position being filled by Mrs. Vazeelle. At the time
John said, "I was clearly convinced I ought to marry," and four days
later he said to Charles that he "was resolved to marry." And marry he
did. At once a storm arose over this step. John, however, could not be
stopped by a mere tempest of words; so he went straight on in the deed.
Married or no he saw no reason why he should change the course or tenor
of his life. He entered in his Journal, "I cannot understand how a Methodist
preacher can answer to it to God, to preach one sermon or travel one
day less in the married than in the single state."...
This was his policy and to it he remained true. He discovered things
at home were not so much as they might be. The matrimonial boat rocked
back and forth for several years until at length John's wife left him
in 1771...[John failed in only one area of his life...on how to make
a marriage work. So I would not recommend the advice he gave to his Methodist's
preachers for your marriage. Instead, I highly recommend pastor David
T. Moore's cassette series "Love For A Lifetime" available online at: http://www.mooreonlife.com ,
cost $38.95 and worth every penny of it. It will help transform your
marriage and rebuild even a bad one. But don't wait if yours is rocky,
it won't hold together forever in that state, even as John Wesley found
out. But John's problem came from having one love which was greater than
any matrimonial love he could ever have. And when we understand that,
how can we fault him for this one failing. I can't.]
Wesley had been wedded in his early life to the only true love that should
ever reign in his heart--the love of winning lost men to Christ. While
others touched the springs of his emotions, the desire to win souls,
to promote God's kingdom, to herald the true Gospel of salvation from
sin, alone held his heart. He was a man who sought to keep the glow of
God in his life shining at such white heat that others should recognize
it and be led to seek the same transforming glory...
It was this being constantly on tiptoe for the heavenly gleam that dominated
Wesley's struggle to form his world parish. He sums up his doctrinal
emphasis thus: "Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are repentance,
faith, and holiness. The first of these we account as it were the porch
of religion; the next, the door; the third religion itself...
Wesley's strength was to be found in the fact that he was homo
unius libri --a man of one book, and that Book was the Bible.
To quote a famous 1960s tune, The times, they are a changin.
After September 11, 2001 we have all become aware of the fact that the
world has become a more dangerous place to live in, even within the borders
of the United States.