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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Denominational Founders > John Wesley


John Wesley
Methodical pietist
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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John Wesley
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"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."

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.

Timeline

1678

John Bunyan writes The Pilgrim's Progress

1687

Newton publishes Principia Mathematica

1689

Toleration Act in England

1703

John Wesley born

1791

John Wesley dies

1793

William Carey sails for India

Religious upbringing

Wesley was born into a strong Anglican home: his father, Samuel, was priest, and his mother, Susanna, taught religion and morals faithfully to her 19 children.

Wesley attended Oxford, proved to be a fine scholar, and was soon ordained into the Anglican ministry. At Oxford, he joined a society (founded by his brother Charles) whose members took vows to lead holy lives, take Communion once a week, pray daily, and visit prisons regularly. In addition, they spent three hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other devotional material.

From this "holy club" (as fellow students mockingly called it), Wesley sailed to Georgia to pastor. His experience proved to be a failure. A woman he courted in Savannah married another man. When he tried to enforce the disciplines of the "holy club" on his church, the congregation rebelled. A bitter Wesley returned to England.

Heart strangely warmed

After speaking with another Moravian, Peter Boehler, Wesley concluded that he lacked saving faith. Though he continued to try to be good, he remained frustrated. "I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. … I fell and rose, and fell again."

On May 24, 1738, he had an experience that changed everything. He described the event in his journal:

"In the evening, 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 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."

Meanwhile, another former member of the "holy club," George Whitefield, was having remarkable success as a preacher, especially in the industrial city of Bristol. Hundreds of working-class poor, oppressed by industrializing England and neglected by the church, were experiencing emotional conversions under his fiery preaching. So many were responding that Whitefield desperately needed help.

Wesley accepted Whitefield's plea hesitantly. He distrusted Whitefield's dramatic style; he questioned the propriety of Whitefield's outdoor preaching (a radical innovation for the day); he felt uncomfortable with the emotional reactions even his own preaching elicited. But the orderly Wesley soon warmed to the new method of ministry.




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