John Wesley (1703-1791) was probably the fifteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, his brother Charles (1708-1788) the eighteenth. When he was six, John was the last child pulled from their burning house, and was called by his mother "a brand plucked from the fire." Later, John was present at prayer services held (against her husband's wishes) in her kitchen. Susanna Wesley went to great lengths to educate and raise her children "methodically."

John graduated from Oxford in 1724, received his M.A. in 1726, and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728. He spent two years assisting his father in his parish in Epworth, and then returned to Oxford to take up a fellowship. His brother Charles was by that time enrolled as an undergraduate and had formed a small group of students who met to try to deepen their faith and encourage each other to perform acts of service. This group was mocked by other students as "the Holy Club," "Bible Moths," and "Methodists." The group eventually asked John to take on its leadership.

In October 1735, John and Charles set sail to Georgia to serve the Colonial Anglicans there and to attempt to convert native Americans. The trip was not successful. He never got the chance to preach to Indians; his high church style did not go over well with the colonists; and he botched a relationship with Sophia Hopkey, niece of the colony's chief magistrate. He slipped back to England on a ship in December 1738.

On the ship to Georgia John had been impressed with the faith and courage of a group of Moravians on board. During a storm that threatened to sink the ship they calmly sang hymns and prayed. Back in London another Moravian, Peter Boehler, took John to a "society" or small group meeting on Aldersgate Street. The group was discussing Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley recorded in his journal: "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Wesley adopted from the Moravians many of the characteristic forms of Methodist worship and practice, their love feasts, watch night services, and hymn singing. In 1739 his friend George Whitefield invited him to preach to a group of thousands in a field near Bristol. It was highly unusual for Anglican priests to preach outside their own pulpit, and preaching outdoors was frowned upon. But Wesley finally agreed, writing in his journal, "I submitted to be more vile." The response to his sermon, including many conversions, convinced him of the usefulness of breaking out from standard Anglican practices. He started his own society in an old cannon factory dubbed "The Foundry" in 1740. Though Wesley was initially reluctant to allow women leadership roles in his movement, he later changed his mind. In 1742 Grace Murray became the band leader of the Foundry Society, and in 1752 Sarah Crosby became class leader.

Throughout his career John worked closely with his brother Charles. Charles's chief contribution to Methodism has been his hymns. He wrote over 5,000, many of which have become the most popular hymns sung by Methodists and other Protestants. Their popularity makes plausible the claim that more people have learned Methodist belief and practice from Charles Wesley than from John.

In the wake of the American Revolution many American Methodists desired to cut ties with the Anglican Church. The rapid growth of Methodism in America and its distance from England led Wesley to decide to do something he would never accept for his movement in England: he allowed American Methodists to form a separate denomination. In 1784 Wesley named Thomas Coke (1747-1814) superintendent (later the title became bishop) of Methodism in North America. Together with Francis Asbury (1745-1816) Wesley charged him to establish the Methodist Episcopal Church, and to ordain clergy who could administer the sacraments as well as preach (his lay preachers had not been able to perform sacramental functions). Asbury became the dominant force in the American Methodist church. He travelled an average of 6,000 miles a year preaching and organizing. Under his leadership church membership grew from 5,000 in 1776 to 214,000 at his death.

Study Questions:
     1.     Who is the founder of Methodism? Provide a brief biography.
     2.     What happened on Aldersgate Street that moved Wesley?
     3.     How did Charles Wesley help educate society on Methodism?
     4.     Who headed Methodism within Colonial America? What did they contribute?

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