John Wesley (1703 –1791) was an eighteenth-century Anglican minister and Christian theologian who was an early leader in the Methodist movement. Methodism had three rises: the first at Oxford University with the founding of the so-called "Holy Club"; the second while Wesley was parish priest in Savannah, Georgia; and the third in London after Wesley's return to England. The movement took form from its third rise in the early 1740s with Wesley, along with others, itinerant field preaching and the subsequent founding of religious societies for the formation of believers. This was the first widely successful evangelical movement in the United Kingdom. Wesley's Methodist connection included societies throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland before spreading to other parts of the English-speaking world and beyond. He divided his religious societies further into classes and bands for intensive accountability and religious instruction.
Methodists, under Wesley's direction, became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements. Wesley's strength as a theologian lay in his ability to combine seemingly opposing theological stances. His greatest theological achievement was his promotion of what he termed "Christian perfection," or holiness of heart and life. Wesley insisted that in this life, the Christian could come to a state where the love of God, or perfect love, reigned supreme in one's heart. His evangelical theology, especially his understanding of Christian perfection, was firmly grounded in his sacramental theology. He continually insisted on the general use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture, meditation, Holy Communion, etc.) as the means by which God transformed the believer. Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the Church of England and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of the Anglican Church. His maverick use of church policy put him at odds with many within the Church of England, though toward the end of his life he was widely respected.
Key Moment: In late 1735, a ship made its way to the New World from England. On board was a young Anglican minister, John Wesley, who had been invited to serve as a pastor to British colonists in Savannah, Georgia. When the weather went sour, the ship found itself in serious trouble. Wesley, also chaplain of the vessel, feared for his life. But he noticed that the group of German Moravians, who were on their way to preach to American Indians, were not afraid at all. In fact, throughout the storm, they sang calmly. When the trip ended, he asked the Moravian leader about his serenity, and the Moravian responded with a question: Did he, Wesley, have faith in Christ? Wesley said he did, but later reflected, "I fear they were vain words.” In fact, Wesley was confused by the experience, but his perplexity was to lead to a period of soul searching and finally to one of the most famous and consequential conversions in church history.
If doing a good act in public will excite others to do more good, then…”Let your light shine to all…”miss no opportunity to do good.
“I sought to establish my own righteousness. In this vile abject state of bondage to sin, I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. Before, I had willingly served sin; now it was unwillingly; but still I served it. I fell and rose, and fell again. Sometimes I was overcome, and in heaviness; sometimes I overcame, and was in joy. For as in the former state I had some foretastes of the terrors of the law, so had I in this of the comforts of the gospel. During this whole struggle between nature and grace, which had now continued about ten years, I had many remarkable returns to prayer, especially when I was in troubles; I had many sensible comforts, which are indeed no other than short anticipations of the life of faith. But I was still ‘under the law’ not ‘under grace’…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.”
“Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry because I never undertake more work than I can go through with calmness of spirit.”
“I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches.”
-John Wesley Source: Cited in an article by Philip Yancey, “Traveling with Wesley”
“We ought not to forbid people to be diligent and frugal: we must exhort all Christians, to gain all they can, and to save all they can... What way then (I ask again) can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other under heaven. If those who gain all they can, and save all they can, will likewise give all they can, then the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven.”
-John Wesley (The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. XV (London: Thomas Cordeux, 1786)
“Your holiness makes you as conspicuous as the sun in the sky. You cannot hide your Christian character. Love cannot be hidden any more than can light. Least of all, it cannot be hidden when it shines forth in action. When you exercise yourself in a labor of love, in any kind of good work, you are observed. We may as well try to hide a city as to hide a Christian. It is the purpose of God that every Christian should be in open view. We are to give light to all that are in the house.”
-John Wesley Source: Sermon, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse IV”
Be present at our table, Lord,
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy people bless, and grant that we
may feast in paradise with thee.
O God, seeing as there is in Christ Jesus an infinite fullness of all that we can want or desire. May we all receive from him, grace upon grace; grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities; to justify our persons and to sanctify our souls; and to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts, which will enable us to be transformed into the blessed image in which you created us. O make us all acceptable to be partakers of the inheritance of your saints in light. Amen.