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John Wesley and the Methodist Revival

[Excerpts taken from "John Wesley" , by Basil Miller, BETHANY HOUSE PUBLISHERS, available online at: . 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 real page-turner.]

"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 prayers."

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.


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..."


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 their leader.

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 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 in 1738.

"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 8, obviously]

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 belief.

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 says...

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.


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, ""

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 & Worship]

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 story thus:

"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.'"


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 teacher...

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 affirms.

"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 preach faith," 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 for me."

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 warmed..."

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 prayer."...

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 salvation."

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 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 freedom.

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.


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 Thursday?" asked Whitefield, to which the chancellor replied, "That is nothing to you."

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 life...

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 war anymore."

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 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 the Gospel.

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 extraordinary manner."

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.]


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 entered.

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 touches him."

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 of preachers...

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 practice.

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:

  1. 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 strictly necessary.
  2. 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 and swearing.
  3. Touch no woman; be as loving as you will, but hold your hands off 'em. Custom is nothing to us.
  4. Believe evil of no one. If you see it done, well; else heed how you credit it...
  5. Speak evil of no one...Keep your thoughts within your own heart...
  6. Tell everyone what you think is wrong in him...
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Contract no debt without my knowledge.
  11. Be punctual: do everything exactly on time...
  12. 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 the forest."


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 health:

  1. To my constant exercise and change of air.
  2. To my never having lost a night's sleep, sick or well, at land or at sea, since I was born.
  3. To my having sleep at command, so that, whenever I feel myself almost worn out, I call it and it comes day or night.
  4. To my having constantly for over sixty years risen at four in the morning.
  5. To my constant preaching at five in the morning for above fifty years
  6. 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 entry:

"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 nothing can."

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 dictionary.

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 and edited...

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: , 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 1960’s 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.

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