JOHN WESLEY
"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' "(Romans 1:17)
Biography of John Wesley John Wesley was born on June 17, 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire in England. He was the fifteenth child of nineteen children born to Samuel Wesley, an Anglican minister and his wife Susannah. Susannah educated all of their children at home. In 1709, when Wesley was only 6 years old, he was rescued from a burning building. His parents always believed that he was saved because God had special work for him to do, and indeed that was the case. Both of Wesley's grandfathers were ministers, one of them being a Puritan minister. Wesley was a small man standing 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing only 120 pounds, but he would prove to be a spiritual giant. His eyes were blue and one of his contemporaries said of him, "his eye was the brightest and most piercing that can be conceived." His hair was reddish brown, his voice was clear and powerful and he had a magnetic personality. Wesley had a tremendous sense of punctuality. One of his friends complained that he was good to talk with but never at leisure because he always had to go somewhere. Because he was anxious never to waste time he read books as he rode on his horse. He was not that interested in politics but had a passion for theater and Shakespeare. He also learned to dance and play the flute. As an intellectual, Wesley had a tough and logical mind. In 1714, Wesley entered Charterhouse School and in 1720 he became a student at Christ Church, Oxford. He received his bachelor of arts degree in 1724. One turning point in his life was when his older brother Samuel was ordained. He decided to follow his brother's example. At this time, he resolved to participate in Holy Communion every week and to spend at least 2 hours in daily devotion. Wesley was also influenced by the writings of Thomas a` Kempis and William Law among others. Wesley was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1725. To support himself, Wesley accepted the position of a graduate student at Lincoln College in March of 1726 and so went to Oxford. This provided him with a place to stay at the college and a modest income. Women were always something of a problem for John Wesley. He wanted to marry Sophia Hopkey but was afraid it would absorb his time and energy that he ought to devote to God's work. A year after meeting him, Sophia was tired of his indecision and married someone else. He considered this a costly sacrifice to God and it made him unhappy. Many years later, he met Grace Murray. She was a devoted Methodist, kind, peaceful, very capable and an excellent nurse. She nursed Wesley when he was sick. He made a decision to marry her. But when he went to met her she also had already married another man--one of his lay preachers! This was largely due to his brother Charles who convinced Grace that marrying John would harm both him and the cause of Methodism. John found it hard to forgive Charles for this but managed to resign himself that what had happened was the will of God. Three years later he married a widow, Mrs. Vazeille in February of 1751 in haste and semi-secrecy. This mar riage did not turn out well. Wesley was determined not to allow his marriage to hinder his traveling and his wife came to resent the time Wesley spent on his work. She became jealous of the women who worked with him. After 1771 they parted. The Work of God through John Wesley At Oxford, Wesley joined a small circle of friends that his brother Charles was involved with. The utmost aim of the group was to help its members lead a truly Christian life. During the years of 1727-1729 Wesley left Oxford to take care of the two churches his father was ministering to, because his father was getting old. He served them until he was called back to Lincoln College. Upon returning to Oxford he again joined the group with his brother and soon became its leader. Under his leadership the group grew into a society. 4 evenings a week they read the New Testament and classical authors in the original languages. On Sundays they discussed spiritual topics. These young men organized every hour of every day. They had specific times to pray, read, eat and exercise so as not to waste time. They subjected themselves to the most severe self-discipline and self-examination. To the outside world, their society seemed very odd and as a joke they nicknamed By 1730 the group widened its activities and started serving prisoners who were often under terrible conditions. Both John and Charles Wesley preached to the prisoners and their society saved money to help the poor prisoners many of whom were in prison not because of crimes but because they couldn't pay their debts. Wesley carried out his duties of lecturing at the college and supervising students while seeking and serving God. In 1734, Wesley's father was about to die and wanted him to come back home and succeed him as the pastor of his churches but Wesley refused, arguing that his life work lay at Oxford. In 1735, Wesley had the opportunity to go to America. Colonel James Edward Oglethorpe from England established the new colony of Georgia, named in honor of George II. One of the trustees suggested that John Wesley take the position of chaplain for the colony. To Wesley, the invitation to go to Georgia was an opportunity for more arduous religious training. He said, "Our end in leaving our native land was not to avoid want, nor to gain the dung or dross of riches or honor; but singly this, to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God." He also said, "That course of life tends most to the glory of God wherein we can most promote holiness in ourselves and others, being persuaded that these can never be put asunder." So John and his brother Charles sailed for America in the hope of achieving more self-discipline and preaching the gospel to the heathen Indians. John and Charles sailed on a small ship of 200 tons with 80 English emigrants and 25 Moravians. They traveled for 3 1/2 months. Their days on board the ship were fully devoted to God. Wesley rose at 4 a.m. and engaged in personal prayer, Bible reading, public prayer, studying German, meetings, Bible teaching, and worship until 10 p.m. They faced tremendous Atlantic storms with huge waves that crashed over the ship drenching it with water. It was impossible to hold onto anything. Wesley wrote, "Every ten minutes came a shock against the stern or die of the ship, which one should think should dash the planks in pieces." God used these storms to begin his revelation to Wesley. Wesley noticed that the Moravians (even the women and children) were not afraid of dying in the storm but calmly went on praying and singing hymns. The English passengers screamed with terror and even he found himself unwilling to die. As he talked with the Moravians (German Protestants) he felt that they had a faith and certainty that he did not have despite all of his striving after Christian righteousness. On February 6, Wesley's ship, the Simmons arrived at Georgia. He was put in charge of a flock of 700 souls. He tried to serve the settlement of Savannah while his brother Charles went on to the newer settlement of Frederica. At first the people were excited by Wesley the new preacher. But soon many serious problems arose. The people did not like Wesley's rigid views barring some people from Holy Communion and demanding others to be baptized. Wesley was not very tactful in handling person problems and publicly denounced private sins from the pulpit. People became bitter toward him. One man said, "All your sermons are satires upon particular people, therefore I will never hear you more and all the people are of my mind, for we won't hear ourselves abused." Despite growing difficulties and frustrations, John had no intention of abandoning his mission. But when the Indians showed no desire to be converted and the people of Savannah rejected his ministry, he believed that he could do no good there. Objectively speaking, this failure was due in part to the unrepentant hearts of the people and in part to the inexperience of Wesley as a large scale leader. Most striking is the fact that Wesley was trying to serve God as a missionary without having experienced conversion himself. He was like Nicodemus who had risen to high ranks in morality and religion but needed to be born again. This is probably why his ministry seemed oppressive because of having the law but no real grace. But this "failure" was not really a failure. Wesley's friend and fellow preacher who served in America wrote of him, "The good Mr. John Wesley has done in America, under God, is inexpressible." This "failure" was also God's way of leading Wesley another step closer to his conversion. Wesley said of his experience in America, "I diligently strove against all sin. I omitted no sort of self-denial which I thought lawful...I omitted no occasion of doing good." Yet he said that "(I could not find) that all this gave me any comfort, or any assurance of acceptance with God." Wesley was experiencing the pain of falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But this was preparation to accept the truth of salvation not by works but by grace (Eph. 2:8-10), in other words--justification by faith. Still, to Wesley the only way to avoid the flames and torment of Hell was to win God's approval by doing good works in this life. He believed people had to earn Heaven and deserve God's favor. He did believe that people struggling to do this would be helped by prayers, and grace coming through the church. Although people saw John Wesley as a good man he was very unhappy, feeling that whatever he did, sin was holding him back and he could never get away from it. As soon as Wesley returned to Oxford he sought out the Moravian Christians in London. He met a man Peter Bohler, who finally convinced him that justification by faith would alone give him the certainty that he sought. Mr. Bohler and the other Moravians told him that this faith would come to him suddenly, in other words that conversion was instantaneous. John's brother Charles had already experienced conversion as he lay sick in bed being tenderly cared for by the Moravians. But John's own conversion did not come until May 24, 1738 at the age of 35 (about 13 years after deciding to serve God as a deacon). As God promised in Deuteronomy, "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul," so it came true in the life of John Wesley. Wesley had been somewhat depressed for several days. Very unwillingly he went to a meeting of Christians in Aldersgate. There he heard a reading of Martin Luther's preface to the book of Romans. Martin Luther was a great German Christian from the 16th century who had led the Protestant Reformation. He was the founder of the Lutheran Church of today. In his book, Luther was explaining the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ. Wesley wrote about his experience in this way, "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust 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." For the first time in his life, Wesley felt free forever from the domination of sin. He knew he would still struggle with sin but he also knew he would win. He became utterly convinced that every man and woman who was aware of their own sin and misery who turned to Christ and relied completely on his love would be saved from Hell and sin. He was filled with a holy desire to spread this joyful news and became a great preacher, who carried the message of hope throughout the land. Dr. Dorthy Marshall said about Wesley's conversion, "What happened then released such a force of explosive Christianity in him that the Methodist movement, which has brought hope and comfort to millions of people ever since, was born." Continue to the next page...