Born in Epworth in 1703, John Wesley was the fifteenth of nineteen children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. As Church of England members, the Wesleys educated their nine surviving children in English, Latin, Greek and bible studies. John Wesley and his siblings had a strict upbringing that included regular prayer time and intensive spiritual instruction.
At the age of 11, in 1714, he was sent to study at London’s Charterhouse School and religious instruction was an important aspect of his education at this time. Wesley began studies at Christ Church Oxford in 1720 and graduated in 1724 as a Bachelor of Arts. He then studied for his Master of Arts and was ordained as a deacon in 1725. The following year he began reading literature that sparked an interest in uncovering religious truths.
During this time, he diligently performed religious duties and also studied the Scriptures. John Wesley became a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726. Although he returned to Epworth in 1727 before being ordained as a priest in 1728, he returned to Lincoln college the following year to resume his position as a Fellow. In 1729, Wesley led the Holy Club; a group for those pursuing a devout Christian lifestyle that was founded by his brother. The group received negative reactions from many people livingintheOxford area who considered the group members as religious enthusiasts.
John Wesley then spent two years in ministry at Savannah in the Georgia Colony. However, this ministry was unsuccessful and he returned to London where he joined a religious society that was run by the Moravian Christians. On the 24th May, he left the Moravians to start his own ministry. This followed an experience that he described as strangely warming his heart.
Two important elements of his ministry were traveling and preaching outdoors. He also embraced the Arminian Doctrines of the Church of England. Wesley organized small religious groups during his travels across the United Kingdom, Ireland and North America. Unordained evangelists were appointed by Wesley to care for these groups and give them religious instruction. Led by Wesley, Methodists did not only concern themselves with religious matters, they also tackled social issues of the time, such as the abolition of slavery and prison reform.
Wesley’s evangelicalism was based on sacramental theology rather than systematic theology. He argued in favour of Christian perfectionism and was strongly against Calvanism and predestination. He maintained that the Methodist movement lay within the traditions of the Anglican church and continued to remain within the Anglican church. Although his interpretations of church policies sometimes stretched the boundaries, he became well respected both within the Methodist movement and the Anglican church as a whole.
The societies led by Wesley needed places to worship, so Wesley began to obtain various premises for Methodists to worship. The first of these was the ‘New Room’ in Bristol. This was followed by properties in other areas, including London. The most famous of these is The Foundry, located between Worship Street and Tabernacle Street.
In addition to his work preaching, Wesley also wrote many literary works. His ‘Notes on the New Testament’, 1755, are based on his sermons. These were simple, concise and enlightening. He also wrote prose. In his original collection of prose, there were 32 volumes. However, as these were later reprinted, the number of volumes often varied. The journals of Jon Wesley were also published in 20 parts between 1740 and 1789. At one time he was accused of plagiarism as he had used work written in an essay by Samuel Johnson. Although he initially denied this, he late officially apologised to Johnson for his actions.
In his personal life, he married at the age of 48. His wife, Mary Vazeille, was a widower and a mother of four children. The couple did not have any children together and the marriage is believed to have been very unhappy. After several temporary separations, Mary left him after 15 years of marriage.
Following his death on the 2nd March 1791 at the age of 87, Wesley continues to be one of the most important figures to the United Methodist Church. He remains one of the most theologically influential people to Methods across the world. There are many landmarks and educational establishments named in his honor, including Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.